Rules For Entering: A Mother’s Reflection On Matters Of The Heart

This morning before leaving for work I was struck by the sign on my 8-year old son’s bedroom door.  It was a list of “rules” for entering which you can see here:

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I thought it was a fine list of rules; he doesn’t seem to request anything of his bedroom guests that is too unreasonable.  Asking permission to enter, being kind, respecting his personal space, as well as his feelings and the times when he just needs to be alone… all good things.  What I was most intrigued by was the warning he attached below them: if you break the rules, you’re out.  No wavering, no mending, no talking about the problem. It’s a very move-along-and-don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya-on-the-way-out sort of mentality; Nihilist, even, black-and-white.  Fear ridden.  Destructive rather than constructive.

So while I was standing there reading the sign and having these thoughts I wondered, is that what my son has learned?  He’s seen me go through three relationships with men I invited into our home and our family yet who are no longer around, outside of his own father.  The other two just… disappeared.  Why?  Because they broke the rules, I guess.  And what were my rules?  Well, very similar to junior’s, actually:

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Seriously.  I asked for a donut.  Where the fuck is it?!  Right???  I think we all feel that way sometimes, or at least I have.  I just find it very interesting to see that feeling reflected here in my son’s rules for entering his room, his world, his life.  Poignant, symbolic, yes?  What I don’t know is how much of that is learned and how much of it is a natural part of being human and wanting to feel safe and cared for.  I guess if anyone regardless of their current situation or circumstances growing up can say that they would ask the same of anyone entering their haven, then we can all agree that these rules belong on every door to every heart.

Unfortunately, written within those rules there is nothing to be said of loving for the sake of loving; giving when you don’t want to give; learning what that feels like in the end.  Even though it’s challenging, there is no implication in such demands that believing the pain of loving without guarantee or restitution is worth it; there is no resolve to lead with love despite the fear of getting burned.

What do we do not only for the other person, but for ourselves when we allow someone in even when they’ve hurt us… upset us… didn’t deliver what we asked for?  I’m 34-years old and I’m still figuring this out; I suppose I can’t expect my 2nd grader to really grasp it yet.  But as his mother, his teacher, his guide, I see it as my job and my privilege to show him the power of love, forgiveness, and working through differences, even when someone we trusted enough to welcome into our lives has hurt us, gone against the rules.  We would all want someone to show up at our door bearing donuts, chocolate, and ice cream.  It’s just that, not all days are like that.  Some days it’s a pile of smelly trash, baggage you don’t care to deal with, and horse shit.

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itsy bitsy or teeny weeny?

Bikini Contest.  The other night I came across a video with this title when I was on YouTube listening to some tunes.  My children spend a lot of time on YouTube, much to my dismay (especially my daughter who is 11), so sometimes video suggestions will pop up based on things they’ve watched.  This video, I could tell, was geared for (presumably) a young teenage audience.  So, I decided to be a responsible parent and check it out.

What I discovered was that this video was posted by some self-consumed Barbie doll wannabe teenage twat who decided to try on and share with the world all 30 (yes, 30) bikini swimsuits that she owns.  Answer me this: who… the hell… needs 30 swimsuits?!?  And all bikinis none the less!  …that’s not very practical.  Also, who has that kind of time or money?  (Obviously not me so I should probably just move on…)

This poor stupid girl started off by saying how all of her friends were doing these videos, so she decided to join in on the fun (so this is a thing that other stupid girls are also doing apparently).  She proceeded to show her viewers each bikini, one by one, and described them in detail, as if we couldn’t already see what they looked like (it was riveting, let me tell ya).  She demonstrated what each one looked like by trying them on (offering a close up of her chest) and got really excited over STUPID shit.  Thirty goddamn bikinis later, she’s encouraging her viewers to “like” the video and “follow” her on YouTube.  But it was her closing remark that really made me sad and mad at the same time.

It was something along the lines of “even if you’re a creepy guy who just wanted to see some girl walk around in a bikini, that’s okay, you’re still a follower!”  She then winked and gave the camera a thumbs up.

What the…………. fuck?!??

I’m sad that there are actually young girls and women out there who feel they need this kind of validation in their lives…. the kind that comes from complete strangers who care nothing about them but rather what they look like underneath the next to nothing clothing they may or may not be wearing.  I’m sad that it doesn’t bother but rather excites this girl to know that strange “creepy” guys are using her to get off, but will later forget all about her.  BECAUSE SHE MEANS NOTHING TO THEM and because she will be replaced with the next girl feeling frisky enough to take her clothes off for an audience.  How sad that that is yet so important to her concept of self.  …And that there are girls and women who think and feel and behave this way EVERYWHERE.

I’m mad that this type of media not only shows a lack of self-respect, but also a lack of consideration for the young girls who have been victims of sexual violence as a result of the smut regularly available on the internet to creepy guys everywhere.  [Sort of as an aside, I was actually surprised recently to learn from a friend who worked in probation with pedophiles that when asked, offenders will oftentimes say that what they did to their sister, niece, cousin, neighbor girl… they learned by watching online videos; their curiosity got the best of them.  I guess I always assumed these fuckers were repeating what had been done to them or what they watched happen growing up.  But that isn’t usually the case as it turns out, at least in my friend’s experience.  And yet how often do we support this type of violence that is most often directed towards women and girls by supporting the porn industry in some form or fashion?]  I’m mad that I’m forced to raise my daughter in a world that begins sexualizing girls at a young age, exploiting them in a myriad of ways, only to turn against them in the end for getting old and fat.

So this evening I had a well thought out discussion with both of my children in which  I very deliberately said a swear word.  This isn’t something I do often.  Oh sure, I’ll let something slip in a fit of frustration or hostility or if I’m just not thinking.  Very rarely do I contemplate a swear word before using it around them.  But I felt, after watching this video and others like it, a word that is taboo and profane to them was exactly what I needed to describe what I thought of this online trend in order to leave a lasting impression.

And so I said to them, “hey… kids…  this video is SHIT.”  I made sure to repeat it several times and continued to explain the impact that videos like these have on both girls and boys and how it can affect their perceptions without them even realizing it.  Videos that are self-serving and attention seeking, that contain nothing but petty commentary and pointless dialogue (or just down and dirty raunch) just to hide the fact that a girl is insanely insecure (and why wouldn’t she be in our society) do nothing to enhance one’s character or improve the lives of others.  It is pure and utter… SHIT.  I just hope that none of the brainwashing has set in for either of my children yet. My 8-year old son just laughed when I brought it up (“Who would want to watch someone in a bikini?!”); my daughter insisted she didn’t see it and steers clear of those types of videos.

Nevertheless… this mama bear is tightening up on what she allows in her home.  I can’t control what my cubs see in the real world, but dammit if there’s going to be a lot less SHIT around here interfering with anyone’s potential to be their best, most confident and most ambitious selves.  I’m sorry but, trying to determine which of your 30 bikinis is the most liked by people you don’t even know isn’t very ambitious.  There is a lot of shit going on in the world, more relevant than the SHIT you contaminate it with, stupid fake pretty girl!!

 

 

Not by Chance, but by Love

This evening I was sitting and chatting with my son, who is 6-years old. He was counting all of my moles and decided that I must have over a hundred. Then he told me about all six of his, the “cutest” one being on his pinky finger. I insisted that the one on his face right below his left eye is my personal favorite. Then I asked him how he got to be so cute. He pointed at me, explaining that I’m the reason he’s so adorable. That makes sense, I agreed, “I did, after all, make you.” Holy shit! I then reflected. I made him!! That shit is crazy! (Not that I wasn’t already aware of this.) He’s so big and so smart and so delightful and fun. And I’m responsible for bringing all of that into the world. I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place. And through my children, I already have. They certainly make my world much more fulfilling and enjoyable. I can’t imagine life without them. So here’s a little story of how their journey into this chaotic world began.

Their dad and I met when we were in the 8th grade. I was 13-years old. I can remember the first day I ever laid eyes on him. We were in the same science class together with Mr. E. It sounds unbelievable, I’m sure, to anyone who’s never experienced anything like this, but it was in that moment that I heard a calm, low voice say, “That’s the man you’re going to marry”. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the time. I mean, what the hell did I know?!  We were YEARS away from being at that point in our lives and plus I didn’t even know the kid!  But as time went on and I did begin to get acquainted with him, I fell pretty hard for the jock who managed to go for a nerd like me.

Throughout high school and then college we went on to have our share of ups and downs. I can’t tell you how many times I broke up with him.  I would often fall for other guys because I didn’t feel like he understood me. But then, we were so young, I think I was also still trying to understand myself.  He was jealous and insecure, which I thought was just an implication of how much he really loved me (wrong). And so I’d go back to him, assured that no one else could love me the way he did (again, wrong). Because here’s what I learned 16 years later: we were both perhaps too young and dumb to know what true love is all about.

When it comes to true love, the kind that is deep and eternal, you have to be willing and able to see your partner for all that they are and embrace them, flaws and all.  You also have to be willing to be honest and able to grow together.  While I did go on to marry the boy I met that day in the 8th grade, after all our years together, he never really seemed to take the time to get to know me fully.  He wasn’t interested in the totality of me, just the parts of me he approved of, denying that there was so much more below the surface incomprehensible to his depthless mind.  But I could not be who he wanted me to be and he couldn’t be anything more than who he was.

So alas, after 7 years, our marriage met its end. But not before creating two beautiful children who have convinced me that destiny is, in fact, what brought their father and I together. Because were it not for him and all of the choices and strong emotional ties that kept bringing us back together, our children wouldn’t be here. We made them, but it feels more like they were made for me. I don’t know if the voice I heard was “real”, meaning that it came from an alternate source. But I do know how real it felt. I’m not sure whether our love was ever real, meaning void of ego, but surely we had our moments. One thing I do know is how real my love is for my kids and how incredibly lucky I am to be able to say that I’m their mom and yes, I made them.

The Monster At The End Of This Blog

In “The Monster At The End Of This Book Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover” (from Sesame Street), a Little Golden Book I remember reading as a child and now read to my kids, the audience is begged not to turn any pages because Grover is terrified at the thought of there being a big, scary monster waiting on the last page. (I usually do my best Grover impression when reading this book to my kids, which I think I’ve nailed.) Besides warning us to stay away, Grover tries everything to keep that monster from rearing its ugly head. However, from building walls to tying pages together, nothing seems to keep the pages from being turned and what Grover finally realizes is that the monster he’s been so afraid of (spoiler alert!)… is him. That’s when he abandons his fear as he comes face to face with the only monster in sight–lovable, furry old Grover. Then he admits embarrassment after having caused so much commotion simply due to an extrinsic fear that no one but him could understand.

As a child I too was terrified of the possibility of monsters hiding under my bed or in my closet. But as an adult, the only monster I’m afraid of… is me.

I have been a monster. I admit to doing things to intentionally hurt others. A few of those things I can brush off as simply being part of growing up and learning how to process through my emotions. But other things, bigger things, more consequential things I have done as a mother to my kids.

The year following my ex-husband’s affair, during the bullshit that is the divorce process, I was a total mess. The anguish I went through was at the expense of my children so no one else could see that I was slowly unraveling. I’d scream and yell at them for no reason. Or at least, no reason good enough to make them feel so bad. I began spanking my son which is something I told myself I’d never do. He was 3-years old at the time, so melt downs and tantrums were inevitable, but not something I was equipped to handle. I’d grab him off the floor and carry/drag him to his room, sometimes plopping him down with no concern to hurting him, and then slam the door. I would yell in his face and on one occasion I slapped him (not with all my might, but that’s not the point). How traumatizing must this have been for him.  And his sister, just a stander-by, probably hating me for treating her brother that way. I hated myself for the same reason. Going through a divorce, feeling rejected and terrified and angry after my husband abandoned our marriage to start a family with another woman, on top of dealing with a tantruming toddler was just too much for me. I had become a monster.

But then things seemed to level off. My son got older and I moved on. I found love again. I found peace. But I’ve never gotten over the guilt of those days; those vital, young and impressionable days. The days I should have been reassuring my kids that although things were changing at a rapid pace (new home, new family, new siblings and live-in mother-type figure) I would always be there to comfort and love them. Not terrify and vilify them.

When I was going through counseling years later, I was asked why I hold on to feelings of guilt. I couldn’t answer except to say that I was hoping the guilt would be enough to prevent me from acting that way ever again. But that’s not how guilt works. Making someone feel bad doesn’t lessen the likelihood that they’ll repeat a behavior. In order for any change to take place there must be forgiveness. There must be an openness and willingness to accept our humanity, not resist it. We are all human and we are all capable of doing some pretty horrible things.

What I was encouraged to see is that guilt is a tool used to control. Through shame we seek to regulate the pain we and others feel. We award blame distinguishing one as right and one as wrong. I have historically blamed myself for every rejection I’ve ever faced. It seems I have a strong threshold for pain. If it weren’t for me, in other words, I’d be able to find someone to share my life with. In my head, I am always an outsider; always the unwanted one; inherently flawed. Rejection is my biggest fear and fear will bring out the monster in any of us.

When I acted like a monster to my kids, fear was at the root of all my destructive behavior. I was afraid of failing as a single mom. I was afraid I would never be able to offer my children the kind of family I have always wanted for myself. I was afraid no one loved me and no one ever could. If my husband who I had known more than half my life could just up and leave, what’s to stop someone else from doing the same?

People like myself strive to be perfect, aim to please, try to be everything to everyone. But faking perfection is friggin exhausting. And when we fall off some imaginary pedestal we look for others to blame so that for at least a moment we don’t have to face ourselves.

I’ve spent my life building walls and tying chains around my heart. Except now I’m willing to abandon my fear and start facing myself. I’m ready to stop pointing fingers and accept responsibility. It’s time to forgive myself so that I can teach my children to embrace themselves, imperfections and all.

Love is a tool used to scare monsters away. And I am surrounded by it. A week ago I was walking my son into his school. We were holding hands and preparing to say our farewells. “Who’s the best mommy?” he repeats out loud with a huge cheesy grin on his face. He thinks it’s me, regardless of all the ways I’ve hurt and frightened him. And that will always be enough to keep the monster at bay.