Let’s Talk. Period.

No one talked periods in my house growing up.

Here’s what I remember: being about 8 years old and climbing around in the backseat while we were making the never-ending drive from South Florida to North Florida to visit my grandparents (y’all, Florida is an exceptionally l-o-n-g state. Those drives went on until the second of FOREVER). I didn’t have a seatbelt on (because the 80s) and was rifling around in some of the stuff packed on the floorboard, probably looking for a snack.

I came upon a box of maxi pads. I held them up. “Hey, what are these?”

If my mama’s eyes could’ve shot lasers, I’d just have been a little burn mark on the backseat. “Put that back,” she said, evenly but in that scary mommy’s-had-enough-of-your-bullshit way that still to this day stops me dead in my tracks.

“But what are they for?” I have no idea what got into me that made me think I should push the issue. My mom’s word was the final word forever-and-ever-amen.

But I needed to know.

“Kendra. We. Will. Discuss. It. When. You. Are. Older.,” she said, barely above a whisper, through clenched teeth.

But we didn’t discuss it later. Not really. We went to a Focus on the Family talk about adolescence where I learned 2 things: 1) Mutual masturbation was BAD (I think it had something to do with potentially catching the gay), and 2) Cocaine could kill you the very first time you tried it.

Neither of these pieces of info was particularly helpful to my 10 year old self.

My mom also handed me a Focus on the Family book about puberty and told to let her know if I had questions.

IF I had questions?!?

That was it.

Obviously, it just wasn’t something that we were going to talk about.

Now I find myself at an interesting crossroads where I’ve started menopause just as my daughter is about to have her first period (all signs point to probably in the next year for her).

But we’ve never been hush-hush around the monthly bleed. The kid was with me all the time when she was real little. She’s seen me change more tampons than I could possibly count.

Truly, she didn’t think anything about it.

And then, probably 2 years ago or so, we started talking about what the tampons were for.

You bleed from WHERE?!? she shrieked.

I had to promise it didn’t hurt. But then I had to backtrack on that–because I want to honor the fact that for some women menstruation is very painful. But I did promise that the whole thing is very normal.

But then, recently, I read Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic. And I began to remember what I’d long forgotten since my Women’s Studies Class approximately 100 lifetimes ago: that a woman’s cycle is powerful. It’s something to be honored and celebrated. It’s not a source of shame, but a guide to knowing.

Menstrual cycles, moon cycles, life cycles… all full of great wisdom. All a gift.

So, now I’m reading graphic novels about periods. And ordering all kinds of books on puberty that celebrate a girl’s body, and talk honestly and openly about the most natural thing in the world: becoming a woman.

And about periods.

Dear God, half the world bleeds. It’s not a shameful secret. It’s a fact of life. A divine mystery. The source of all kinds of walk-in-your-power-awesomeness.

I’m going to give my daughter a different script, a way to see her monthly cycle not as a curse but as a blessing.

“The Curse” is so patriarchal. And that’s so yesterday.

There’s a whole different way to see the world that centers a woman in her own power. And that’s the kind of inner-knowing I want to hand off to my kid.

No Slut-Shaming Here

Sunday morning, the (almost) 10 year old and I puttered about the kitchen. As coffee flowed freely from its pot into my waiting mug, I heard a tentative “Mommy?” I looked up at my child who was peering at me with a look of concern (and maybe a little gentle reproach). “Um… I think you forgot to take off your makeup last night.”

I finished making my cup of coffee (I have priorities) & trompt off to the bathroom to take a look.

Looking at my reflection, I snickered. Mascara was nigh on everywhere. “Total walk of shame makeup,” I muttered to myself, more reflex than actual thought.

And then I was like, “What the HELL?!”

Because in that moment, just right then, I realized that no one ever refers to a guy’s venture home after a wild (and possibly slightly regrettable evening) a walk of shame. A conquest, maybe. But more than likely, just a regular Saturday night.

Women, though? Walk of shame.

For me, having a little girl has made me rethink everything. The way I ingest the misogynistic bullshit society turns out. Diet culture. Body image. The words I use. Everything.

I have definitely had to reckon with shame. Because, for me, shame was persistent & pervasive in the messages I got about my body. My breasts? Not big enough. My ass? Too big. Ripe for either jokes or objectification. But always up for discussion. In middle school, I quickly got the message that eating too much showed too much need & desire. Besides it could make me fat. In high school, when all that internalized shame about my desires (which I wasn’t supposed to have (because Jesus), and I certainly wasn’t supposed to act on) and my body manifested itself in abject panic about having to literally chew & swallow food, I was either praised or scorned for being too skinny.

Holy shit, that’s a lot for one adolescent child to process.

I remember being so ashamed of my body in middle school that, on a canoe trip with our youth group–which was mostly kids older than me–I cowered in a tent too small to stand in trying to change out of my wet bathing suit, which took forever because I was shaking with fear that someone would unzip the tent and come inside. That’s how much shame I carried about my own body at 13 years old.

So what did I do with all that shame?

Spent graduate school sleeping around. Of course. Because isn’t that how you demonstrate that the shame has been put to rest? That you are the master of your own body and your own fate?

(Spoiler: No. The inverse of shame isn’t wild promiscuity*. Because, oh, there’s slut shaming, too. So I just traded one brand of shame for another.)

I was 30 years old before I figured out how to have any respect for my own body. I was 35 before I learned to love it. That was the same year Jane was born. The year I realized I had to go all in on loving myself, because parenting is a lead by example situation. And I want that girl to love herself to bits. And to take care of herself. And she’s looking at me to show her how.

As Jane enters puberty, it’s even more important to me than ever to be conscious about how I talk about my body and about sex and intimacy in general. I don’t think that sex should be a taboo discussion. Because, if it is, how is she supposed to be comfortable asking questions when she’s pondering having sex (or has had sex or her friend has told her something patently absurd about sex)?

Since the day Jane was born, we’ve been striving to teach her to think independently (except when it comes to cleaning her room. Then she should just do as she’s told). Which means that, in this instance, I’ve tried to lay out the broad spectrum of choices people make about when and with whom to have sex (high school, college, not until marriage…people they are in love with, people they’re fond of, the guy or girl on the barstool next to them). And for different people, those are all valid options.

But what she really needs to know, what would have saved me from a world of shame, is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters that she does what is right for her. And that can change… week to week or even moment to moment. And, when the time comes, she needs to be honest & transparent with her partners about her expectations and follow the campsite rule (which Dan Savage coined to as a guideline to protect a younger person engaged with a more experienced partner–but I think should apply to everyone).

This is 2021. And folks are still shaming women for their bodies and their sexuality. As a mother, in my house that stops with me. I want Jane to understand her inherent value as a person–not an object (no matter society’s subtle & not-so-subtle insistence otherwise). And that starts with helping Jane find her inner compass, her own True North, that will guide her in all decisions–even the ones about S-E-X.

She may be only (almost) 10, but what she hears from me will be with her for the rest of her life. The very best I can hope is that my words guide her away from shame and toward total, radical self-love.

* Nothing wrong with wild promiscuity. But it’s not an escape hatch. It’s a choice, one that you should be able to make with a clear head. It should never be just one of multiple, concurrent paths to self destruction–which was all it ever was for me. Know thyself and all.

Everything’s Coming Up Witches

Back in early December, my book club picked A Discovery of Witches for our upcoming book nerd-out session. And when I say “we” picked it, I really mean I nudged it forward because folks had been coming in the store to grab the book. And it’s super helpful if, as a bookseller, I can chat about (or recommend) a book that’s garnering a lot of interest (it’s a series on Netflix …. and that gives book sales a big boost. I can’t even get any of the Bridgerton novels currently. Backstockarama, that one).

What’s funny is that I’d already tried to read A Discovery of Witches twice. And hated it both times. But books are mysterious. Sometimes it just has to be the right time, the stars have to align, and the Starbucks barista has to be able to correctly spell your name before a book will really strike you. But I was determined this time to read the damn book.

Which worked out because… witches.

Witches are real big in our house right now.

The sacred feminine has held me in it’s thrall since I read Women Who Run with the Wolves when I was 20 something. Pure magic. The power & mystery wrapped up in being a woman is nothing short of miraculous. That belief runs so deep in me that when Simon told me he was going to transition, I asked him why he would want to devolve like that (Alright. It wasn’t my finest moment. But I just didn’t understand how anyone could not want to be a woman. Don’t worry–I’m clearer on things now.)

I knew I was ready to explore the sacred feminine more fully this year, so I grabbed a planner with the phases of the moon, the Wheel of the Year (I do love a holiday celebration & ritual), and some preliminary witchy spells/rituals. Nifty. That sits on my bedside table so I can jot down what speaks to me most from my horoscope each morning (It’s woowoo AF over here lately. We’re embracing all the magic).

I’d also been looking for a good intro-to-all-things-witchy nonfiction book, and one of my bookstore customers recommended Witch, which is utterly amazing by the way. Lots of applicable knowledge about everything from history to casting a circle. It’s the perfect alchemy of hang-out-and-chat-about-woman-stuff and walk-into-your-power goodness. And the cover of that book (and, yes, almost everyone judges a book by it’s cover) is like BOOM. Here I am. In all my glory & power. It’s also on my bedside table.

And, for our family hang-out tv show, we’re watching Just Add Magic. It is adorable. And, well, magic-y*. I keep piping up in the middle of the show to let Jane & Simon know when things on the show line up with what I’ve read, like when each spell comes with a price often steeper than the magic being performed (see: Threefold Law). Jane just nods and eats another Oreo. I’m sure Simon’s making a mental note about how he’ll hear all about this later, whether he wants to or not (he’s long-suffering).

Anyway, into all that witchiness came A Discovery of Witches. And it was just the escapist reading I needed. It was totally otherworldly (vampires, witches, daemons), while still being of this world (set mostly in Oxford). I got into it enough that I dreamed of vampires for nights on end (they’re complicated & I was getting really close to understanding them, y’all).

What got me (and kept me reading) was the discovery of power storyline. There’s a central thread in the book that you cannot deny or escape power that is rightfully yours. It’s been bestowed upon you, and it will find a way out. Your only choice is to harness that power and control it–or it will control you.

I mean… hello, metaphor for life.

I’m a woman who has given away her power spiritually since she was a child. I let other people tell me what to think and how to believe. And I am done with it. I am 100% down with exploring my own power, having my own dealings with the divine, and not really giving one fig what anyone else has to say about it.

Diana, the protagonist in A Discovery of Witches, has been trying to make a go of her life on her own–without magic. Which leaves her hollow, albeit highly functional. But she’s cut off from everything that makes her special, from her own birthright in a long lineage of witches. What follows in the book is a messy discovery of herself, one that she can’t escape any more even if she tries.

I can relate to back-against-the-wall-self-discovery (which is pretty much the definition of getting sober). And I was driven to know more about her backstory (none of which I can tell you, because spoilers) and her journey to her own power.

There is a romance storyline wrapped in this. Parts of it resonated deeply with me (I don’t think many of us come into our power completely on our own) and parts were highly problematic. I liked that I pushed against it as much or more than it drew me in. But, for me, that part of the storyline was an addendum (more or less).

I was thrilled to have read this one. It was all that I needed it to be right now: a place to escape but also to believe that maybe we all have more power than we realize.

It fit right into my gigantic woowoofest & it completed the trinity of witch books on my bedside table. It’s definitely all coming up witches this January.

*This is a super-cute show. And they aren’t pushing any agenda, except friendship, loyalty, and personal responsibility. Which I think we can all get on board with.

Her Timing is Always a Mystery

Parenting is largely intuitive.

Right?

Or am I doing it wrong?

Because this really feels, for the most part, like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor.

It’s not so much the “where do babies come from?” conversations… those big ones are expected. You kind of get to plan for those. And, honestly, for us that one was easy… Jane came to be in a very skilled fertility doctor’s office. In fact, she knows her origin story so well, we had to go ahead & speed up the talk about the way that many cis/het folks procreate before she started telling her friends with authority that babies were made in the doctor’s office (with a mobile of white Christmas lights above the examination table, for ambiance).

But then there are the conversations that happen as you’re driving to, say, the chiropractor on a random Monday afternoon.

“Mommy, can drinking kill you?” There she was, sat in the back seat looking super-interested in the answer to this question.

But it’s nuanced, you see. Because I’m in recovery. So, yeah, drinking could totally kill me. But I also know that the way I respond to things either provides her something to push back against (and that girl is the queen of push back) or something to think about. Depending on how I handle it.

So, I followed the instructions I keep getting (over and over again) from the Universe… I trusted my intuition.

And I was straight-up honest.

I told her how I got in trouble drinking (read: I hated myself & wanted to escape that feeling). I told her that many folks drink safely. And that she could choose to drink (or not!) when she got old enough. But you can believe that I put a plug in for sobriety being a valid life choice, whether you “have to” be sober or not. We also talked about what happens when you drink too much (acting a fool, blackouts, headaches, puke-fests).

None of this conversation was entirely foreign to her. When you’ve got a parent in long-term recovery, you occasionally bump into a drunkalog story along the way. Because it’s easier to point to what NOT to do with humor than with haranguing lectures.

I remember sitting in an AA meeting and hearing a woman in recovery declare (forcefully) that her child would never drink (as in not ever take a sip of alcohol). I thought that was a foolish premise then. Now that I have a child, I know how truly absurd that idea is.

Jane will drink. She’ll try it at least. And that’s what I acknowledged in our little car chat yesterday afternoon: she’ll make mistakes when it comes to alcohol. And she’ll regroup and make (better) decisions from there.

Not everything has to be black and white. I don’t need the kid declaring herself a teetotaler at (not quite) 10 years old. But I do want her to know that sometimes drinking is kicking back and having a beer on the beach with friends. Sometimes it is … so very NOT.

And that’s the truth for me. She’ll find her truth.

But, as is true with so many other things, she’ll only make good choices about alcohol if she’s at peace with who she is, if knows how to love herself.

And it’s that lesson that I hope really sticks.

The Nitty Gritty: The Yellow House

The pull to a specific place has occupied my thoughts for the better part of 5 years now. This idea of place as a piece of who we are is what drew me to Atlanta. This city called me until I could no longer ignore it. I had to be here, in a way that I couldn’t describe to most people.

Atlanta resonates through me–my whole being–even though I didn’t grow up here. It is home in a visceral sense. I am happy here because I belong in the very deepest sense of that word.

So, I’ve often wondered if other folks feel the same way about place–that it takes on a life of its own, shares space in our psyches. Consequently, this wondering brought me to both Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (by choice) and The Yellow House (completely unwittingly).

I knew 3 things about The Yellow House before I read it: it was a memoir; it won the National Book Award; and it centered on a family that lost their home in Hurricane Katrina.

I’ll tell you up front that I’ll try to avoid spoilers–and also that I’m not sure there are spoilers for this book. Because it isn’t so much what happens in Sarah M. Broom’s family or to the house they inhabit, but the lens through which she views it that makes the book.

The Yellow House both is and is not a Katrina book. For instance, if you read the fiction work Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward–THAT is a Katrina book. The whole narrative centers around the storm & its impacts. While the yellow house meets its ultimate demise in Katrina, the story begins decades before the storm… and continues afterward, because families and people continue on with or without the structures they’ve called home.

The book is more broadly about New Orleans. About what it’s like to grow up black and poor in a city that holds an almost magical sway over most of America. Broom weaves New Orleans history–including an analysis of the pervasive colorism in New Orleans–throughout her narrative. All while exploring the pull of this place that she grew up in. She leaves and returns to New Orleans, looking for something. But she’s never quite sure what. She’s pulled in particular back to New Orleans East, where she grew up–which has long been neglected by the city and devolves completely after Katrina decimates the infrastructure in a part of town even more flood prone than the rest of the city. The fate of New Orleans East is tragic and infuriating. But it’s fascinating and instructive to watch Broom navigate these complex emotional spaces. For me, there was something simultaneously intimately familiar and ultimately unknowable about her quest.

This book is going to leave you with more questions than you had when you started. Broom will wrap nothing up tidily for you. And, if you’re an introspective sort, she’ll have you picking at your own family history, your sense of place.

Ultimately, The Yellow House begs the question: What constructs us? Is it family? Place? Home? Ourselves?

I turned 45 this week. And I wonder if that has anything to do with the pull of this book for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about family and roles we play in our family of origin versus the self the we construct outside those bounds. And, for me, that also calls up the places I grew up (all over Florida with parents born in the Deep South) and the places I remained connected to throughout my childhood and now choose to claim (the South, Atlanta, and South Georgia). The Yellow House gave me footing to think about these things & introspect in a way that felt important and a little esoteric.

This book laid out for me issues of family, place, and self I’ve been pondering–and allowed me to see that there are no easy answers. That there are always more questions. And that they are worth asking.

The Nitty Gritty: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about place lately: how where we are from constructs who we are. And I’ve been drawn to books that explore place as internal landscape.

My mother’s family is from South Georgia. Although I grew up in Florida, I always considered myself a dis-placed Southerner. According to my Northern oriented friends, my dad talks like a banjo. Growing up, my mother insisted we say “sir” and “ma’am” to adults, which most adults in South Florida found wildly unnecessary and sometimes offensive.

We didn’t fit there. And I knew it.

I moved up to North Florida as soon as I was free to do so (four days after high school graduation). If you’ve never been to North Florida, it’s really just an extension of South Georgia.

And there, I felt at home.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is an in-depth exploration of the South Georgia landscape of my mother’s people. A place I visited multiple times as a child. The place we buried my grandfather not too long ago.

Author Janisse Ray explores not only what it was to grow up poor and deeply religious in the rural South, but she also details–with shockingly clear imagery–the landscape and wildlife that exists in South Georgia. Her description of deforestation, what we’ve lost that it will take a Herculean effort to reclaim, almost brought me to tears.

She pulls no punches about the South. But she also explores the “why” of the place. Her depth of understanding of both people & nature makes her a tremendous ecology writer.

If books about place speak to you, this is a fine one. As a Southern nature lover, it’s an imperative read.

Being a Girl in the World…

When I was a kid, being a woman seemed like some sort of secret, mystical state that one entered into when they were, say, 16 or 17. Like maybe I’d go to sleep an awkward adolescent kid and wake up graceful, beautiful, and smelling like Estee Lauder Youth Dew. Who really knew how it would happen? The whole process was shrouded in mystery. Women had secret rites round make-up and feminine hygiene products (seriously, worst phrase ever) and no one seemed willing to explain these things to me.

Maybe I was just supposed to intuit them.

I did not intuit much of anything.

The 1980s/1990s hyper-conservative world I grew up in was full of god-awful gender stereotypes and a stony silence around sex. There was only one way to be a woman in the world: pretty, made-up, and ultimately submissive (men were the head of the household. They always had to make more money and, ultimately, made all the decisions. Which was some bullshit and I knew it, even then). Oh, and I needed to be a virgin. For sure. Because why buy the cow, if you could get the milk for free? (Just typing that out makes me cringe. But it was gospel truth in my world)

Two things really crystalize who I was when I went away to college:

  1. I had no idea how to use a tampon at 18 years old. This became problematic when I got my period just as my best friend & I were about to head out to the beach. I told her I couldn’t go. She rolled her eyes so hard, she’s lucky they aren’t still stuck in the back of her head. She proceeded to stand outside the stall door and coach me through inserting a tampon, so we could go to the beach. How did that go? Well… I hemmed and hawed until she threatened to come into the stall and insert the damn thing herself. I figured it out real quick after that.
  2. When I was at Florida State, a young woman who’d been class president (or vice president or something of that sort) in high school came to me in all earnestness and asked how she was supposed to reconcile holding a leadership position with the call for women to be submissive. She’d gotten mixed up in our youth group right before she left for college. Obviously, we were a persuasive bunch. The most persuasive? The boys who had something to gain from all this submission bullshit. I don’t even remember what I said to her. But I knew, at that moment, that everything I’d been taught about women was a lie.

Three things happened around that time that further unveiled the mystery of womanhood, gender stereotypes, and my own body:

  1. I took a college class on Christianity. I thought it would be an easy A. I’d grown up in the church, after all. I knew things. Instead, that class upended everything I’d been taught in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, youth group, in sermons, on retreats… I’d been raised on a legalistic, self-righteous brand of conservative Christianity. And, for me, this class exposed everything I’d believed as a lie hellbent on manipulating me into fear and submission. And I was pissed. For years afterward, I wouldn’t even spell out Christmas (Xmas all the way, baby. I tend to be pretty hot or cold. So, when I was done with Christianity–for that go-round at least–I was aggressively done).
  2. I took a Women’s Studies class. Mystery = unveiled. Goddess religions? Yes, please. History that included women’s contributions as something other than a footnote? Hell, yes. Women as equal and powerful? I could not get enough. Truly. I realized I could be a woman in whatever way suited me. First decision: no more make-up. I’d been one of those girls who never left the house without at least eyeliner and mascara–but usually a “natural-looking” version of the whole shebang. The first time my father saw me without makeup, he inquired as to what in the holy hell could be wrong? Upon discovering that I was currently in a makeup eschewing stage, he informed me that women wear makeup. I didn’t put on a lick of makeup again for at least 3 more years. It was my own daily protest against the tiny, proscribed life that I’d been raised to lead.
  3. I started dating women. Here’s the thing: I’d always been completely awestruck by women. I just didn’t know there was anything I could do about that (no one said I wasn’t a little slow on the uptake sometimes). But when I realized that I could be in a relationship with another woman–honest to God, it was like heaven broke open. Everything in the world made sense. Angels sang. I wasn’t broken, I was a lesbian. This truth set me free in ways I didn’t know possible.

When, at age 34, I discovered I was pregnant with a baby girl–I had to start unpacking some of the complexities of being a woman real quick-like. I remember standing in front of the mirror, naked, right after I brought home this beautiful baby that looked so much like me. And I knew, right then, that whatever negativity I leveled at myself she’d hear as judgement about her own body. That was it: that was my moment of total release. I let it all go. All the body image bullshit I’d carried around, all the times I’d been nudged to be quiet, to not take up space, to just get along–I let all that shit go. And I finally set about becoming the woman I really wanted to be.

That’s what my baby girl gave me: the gift of being totally and fully myself.

While I know that the journey is just as important as the destination and all that jazz, I’d like my daughter to grow up with actual knowledge of her own body and an understanding that there are so many ways to live into being a woman.

There’s power and beauty in it. And there’s struggle, too.

I want her to proudly wear the Feminist badge (and to understand and live out a feminism that is truly intersectional). I want her to love, cherish, and understand her body–because it’s beautiful, and powerful, and worthy just the way it is. And I want her to know that she can love whoever she chooses.

But most of all, I just want her to be a open to the big, beautiful possibilities that her life holds.

No submission necessary.

Ground Control…

In the evolution of parenting, we’ve recently entered the tween zone.

It’s a strange land, filled with Caboodles, lip gloss, ill-applied blush, and an obsession with all things unicorn and glitter.

It’s a liminal stage. For us and our 9 (and a half) year old.

There are things to be celebrated, for sure: a newfound love of organization, a stab at cleanliness, and an intrigue with the persona she’s carefully formulating.

And then there are things that break my heart a bit: worry that playing with her best friends (both boys, both a tiny bit younger) doesn’t jibe with who she’s trying to be; a letting go of the most obvious vestiges of her childhood: her beloved doll clothes (those dolls were everything for several years. They even had their own bathroom set-up–with a toilet that made flushing noises!); a studied pain-in-the-assness that she believes is a hallmark of the preteen years.

It’s a little confusing for all of us.

But it’s a stage.

The persona she adopts right now is just as apt to change as the socks she put on this morning. It’s a performance. She’s trying to settle on what feels good. And right. For her.

Now, I can tell her what feels right for me. But that’s not going to do her any good. So, I just circle about her orbit, doing my thing: yoga & meditation & truth-telling & book-selling. I am so much a part of her world. But at the same time, vastly separate… something to be observed.

Until she wants to cuddle. Then she wants me to absorb her completely. She cannot get close enough. There is no beginning and end to us. I can feel us breathe together. And it’s never been any other way.

And then I realize that I can’t breathe, because the kid is almost as big as I am (at 9! … okay… I’m not a very big human. But still!), and she’s crushing the breath right out of me.

It’s a push and pull of nostalgia and realism. It’s creating and re-creating. Starting again. Pressing forward.

The thing that bothers me most isn’t Jane’s efforts at self discovery (even if they do mean she constantly tries to filch my mascara). It’s other people’s reactions to it. And those, well, they piss me off.

I can hear the flinch in people’s voices when I tell them I have a tweenish girl.

“That must be so hard,” they murmur. “Girls can be so mean,” they say outright. Or my favorite: the “Oh” laden with what I think I’m supposed to understand as sympathy for my plight.

It’s bullshit.

Girls are humans. They have joys and fears. They try things out. They can be mean. They can be kind. But you know who decides that? Them. Each one of them.

It’s my job to guide this sweet, insightful 9.5 year old toward an adolescence and adulthood filled with meaning and purpose–and hopefully lots of joy. That can, in fact, be done wearing lip gloss and sparkly nail polish. Or she might decide to ditch all that and shave her head and wear Doc Martens.

Cool.

Her form of self expression is just that: hers.

As the ad-hoc navigator of this journey, I get to serve as her touchstone. I remind her that she can be grown (see: lip gloss & blush) and still have fun (see: playing with light sabers in her besties’ backyard). I tell her about what I missed out on because I tried so hard to be someone I wasn’t & took myself way too seriously. I laugh with her when she tries something that she ultimately decides is ridiculous. And, sometimes, I buy her unicorn tank tops just because (so she knows I really see her). When all else fails, I call in my glamorous, childhood-beauty-pageant-winning friend to teach Jane how to apply blush correctly. Because God knows I have no idea.

I want Jane to know that she is loved and accepted, always. I value her for who she is. And she is worthy just as she is. Worthy of love. And acceptance. And all the glitter her heart desires.

Dance, I Said

If I were to run smack into my sixth grade self right now, my first thought would be, “Oh, honey.” And then I’d get straight to work helping me be slightly less of a dork.

The problem was that I just had no clue. Other kids were a little like aliens to me. I didn’t understand how they knew what was cool. I definitely didn’t know how to be cool. And that cluelessness led me to walk into the sixth grade dance believing I was actually there to have fun.

My sixth grade misconception is difficult to square with my beliefs as a parent. Because the parent in me believes things should be fun. That you should do whatever you want & be proud of who you are. That you should 100% let your freak flag fly.

But the realist in me knows that you have to understand the rules to break the rules.

I did not.

And that you have to be hella confident to break from the deeply entrenched social norms of middle school.

I was not.

So, basically, I had no chance of making it out of that dance unscathed.

I feel pretty confident I had on a jean skirt (too long, wrong denim wash). And some shirt that likely looked either too grade school or too much like I’d reached a tragically early middle age (likely my mom would have said it was “pretty.” Which was apparently code for: you are moving at warp speed from anything that resembles popularity). And I had barrettes pulling back the bangs I was growing out. To be clear: I parted said bangs down the middle and pulled them back with barrettes. Tiny barrettes. Very close to the part, because my bangs weren’t any longer than regular bangs. But I was growing them out. So, of course they couldn’t just hang down, or swoop over, or get moodily in my eyes.

Nope.

Barrettes.

So, there I am, in this fashion travesty. And I start dancing.

Like, I’m totally dancing like no one is watching. Except it’s middle school, and EVERYONE is watching. And I’m dancing like one of the nerds at the end of a John Hughes movie, who finally gets accepted for who they are… and all is right with the world.

Which is so lovely. But not particularly realistic.

And so…

I’m dancing (badly). With wild abandon. And this girl approaches me.

I can’t remember exactly what she said. I think it was something to the effect of “What the hell is that you are doing?” I remember her looking at me like she hated me. Really hated me. And I was confused. And scared. Because she shoved me like she wanted to fight.

When I think about it, I can still feel the adrenaline shoot through me. I was shaking. And I remember telling her that I wasn’t going to fight her. Because I had more respect than that for myself & her. Because I was a Christian. (I like that I could throw in self-righteousness even in the face of a beat down. Because let me tell you, that “I am a Christian” business wasn’t about mercy or empathy. It was me telling her that I was better than she was.)

I don’t remember how the whole mess of a situation got diffused. I think I threatened to tell on her.

No one said I excelled in sticking up for myself.

What I do remember is feeling a deep sense of shame that someone hated me that much, thought I was that gross that they’d want to fight me just for being myself. It was one of many messages I got in sixth grade that who I was was, in fact, nothing.

On the ride home (and for weeks afterward) I tried to combat that shame with that tried-and-true parental adage that she was just jealous of me.

I knew it was bullshit then. And it certainly did nothing to ease my shame.

I think about that often: how I internalized that shame, how I believed there was something deeply wrong with me, how I so quickly believed I was nothing.

And I wonder how to do better by Jane.

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot going for us: Jane was born with more fashion sense than I’ll ever have. And she’s developed a self confidence at 9 (and a half) that I sincerely admire.

And, on my end, well I just try to be honest with her. About people. About life (which is both pain & joy). And about working through her own response to other people’s shit.

Here are some things we live by in this house: When people are mean, it’s about them. Not you. It’s not that they’re jealous (because EW. That makes it sound like you believe you are better than they are). It’s that they are in pain. And if you can find compassion for that pain, you can release yourself from their judgement. Because, again, it isn’t about you.

But you also have to give yourself space to work though your own pain, when people spew their internal garbage on you. And to make a choice about how you respond. Because you can’t control what other people do, you can only control your response to it.

And we work on really knowing who we are. So that we can be proud of that. And so we can be people who put more good than bad into the world. And to try to love folks as they come.

Also noteworthy: Jane flips out if I dance in public. So maybe my dancing really IS that bad. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it anyway.

Figuring It Out

Simon would probably tell you that I’m rarely quiet.

We’ve been together for not-quite-but-almost 17 years… so he’s a pretty good authority on all things me.

It is true… I’ll happily chatter on about country music, or any injustice I spot from a million miles away, or about whatever I happen to be pondering that day.

It also may be true that I debrief him on my latest thoughts, feelings, and internal dilemmas first thing in the morning (before he’s even had his coffee. He’s a better listener that way).

And I regale him with stories about my day, my friends, and other randomness when we sit down to watch TV. Which sometimes annoys him. But mostly he’s used to it.

For all that talking, though, I talk at least 50% less than I used to. I’ve learned to think before I speak. To make sure I really think/believe things before they come flying out of my mouth. Trust me, this is a VAST improvement over the stream-of-consciousness he was living with 17 years ago.

It’s also true that some of my friends tease me about being a completely open book. Probably because I wrote about getting sober, my struggles with anxiety, Simon’s transition, my difficulty squaring a lesbian identity with my (super cute, newly minted) husband, miscarriage, and the almost-dissolution of my marriage… all without hesitation.

That’s a lot of sharing. And a lot of vulnerability. But that’s what I value. I tell my story so someone else will realize they aren’t alone. And maybe they’ll want to share their story, too. I believe we all need more connection, not less. We need to be vulnerable with each other and kind as we watch people navigate their own journeys.

But… and this is a real weird one for me… lately I don’t know what to write, because the things I’m sorting out feel both deeply interior and… quiet.

There are good things that happen every day over here. But quarantine has a cadence that is so familiar that it doesn’t lend itself to new revelations like being out in the world. There are lovely things about this quiet, s-l-o-w time. But not much that’s lending itself to good storytelling.

I feel like the Universe is nudging me gently to look at some old patterns that have resurfaced recently. There’s nothing mysterious about them… sometimes my thoughts get stuck in a loop. And, like listening to as song on repeat with your toddler, the first few times aren’t bad. Time number twenty-five can make you a little bit bananas.

It hasn’t happened to me in a long time, this endless loop. I think, deep down, I thought I had evolved past it. Obviously, the Universe thought I need some humility. So, I’m looking deeper than I usually have to to figure out why Loopfest 2020 happened (instead of trying to just abruptly shove it aside, as is usually my way). This is a level of introspection I haven’t had to hone in on in a while.

This mining process, turning my thoughts, patterns, and feelings over and over… it must use the very same creative/introspective energy I tap into to write.

Because, lately, I feel like I’ve got nothing in the way of stories to tell.

Not because things are bad. But because I’ve been presented an opportunity–the kind that doesn’t show itself every day–to really understand myself. And that’s where my energy is going.

And since I learned to shut-it (at least 50% of the time), and to only put things out into the world that I’ve thought through and believe, well it’s been like a game of Quiet Mouths over here.

Well, for everyone except Simon. Who still gets front row as I process in real-time.

The moral of the story?

Marry well, friends. (Also, probably keep Simon in your thoughts & prayers)