What if *I* Gave the Commencement Speech?

I participated in 5 commencement ceremonies this past Friday and Saturday, one for graduate studies and one for each college at the University of Southern Indiana. Each time, I donned my regalia, carried a gonfalon*, and sat as a member of the platform party. Some elements of the ceremonies were the same, but each had its own student reflection and commencement speaker.

In the space of about 26 hours, I heard 5 commencement speakers…which led me to think…what would *I* tell the Class of 2019? What would I say during a commencement speech?

So…here’s my stab at some advice for graduating students. Or for non-graduating students. Or non-students and other people. Any people. For whomever happens to be reading this blog. I think this is kind of my all-around life advice, but let’s pretend it’s a commencement speech.

*I cannot say “I carried a gonfalon” without immediately thinking “I carried a watermelon” and I really wish that we had started dirty dancing with our gonfalons. ALSO: a gonfalon is a fancy-ass word for a banner. When I received the email inviting me to be a gonfalonier at our ceremonies, I had to google it. Yup. So much for that PhD. ALSO ALSO: in case you’re wondering, I carry a gonfalon because I’m the Director of our Honors Program and the Honors Program now has a gonfalon! It’s kind of exciting! Almost as exciting as a watermelon!!

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Image of a drum, two drum sticks, and the words “Drum Roll Sound.” Cuz I’m cheesy like that.


 

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Head shot of me looking really goofy in my regalia and tam with bright red lipstick. (My lipstick looks on point!)

Graduates! Or whoever’s reading this blog! Congratulations on graduating! Or not, if you’re not graduating–that’s cool too. Congratulations on just being awesome enough to read this blog.

A lot of commencement speakers urge you to work hard, to seize every opportunity, to leave your mark, to follow your dreams no matter what.

Yeah, that’s all well and good. I mean, I’m not going to tell you NOT to do those things. But I want to focus on a few things that I find more important.

FIRST, be your own best friend. And by this I mean: Be gentle with yourself. Watch your self-talk. When you hear that little voice in your head, the one you use to talk to yourself, make sure you’re talking to yourself as kindly and gently as you would talk to your best friend. Think about it. You would NEVER tell your best friend that they are a failure, that they look horrible and disgusting, that they are stupid, that they are a loser, that everyone hates them. And yet? We say these kinds of thing to ourselves all the time.

Stop it. Tell yourself that you tried hard and you’re still learning, tell yourself that you’re smart and capable and worthy of love.

Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend. Be gentle.

SECOND, you’re going to hear a lot of crap about what you should and shouldn’t do with your body. Watch sugar. No, watch carbs. No, actually eat only raw food. No, you should actually fast half the time. Actually, now we’ve discovered you should eat only pink, polka-dotted foods…

Here’s what I believe: eat intuitively, move joyfully, and radically love your body.

Eat what you want to, what your body asks for, and ENJOY what you eat. Move in ways that bring you joy, whether that’s running marathons, dancing in clubs, hula-hooping, splashing in the pool with your dog, knitting on your couch, gardening, making funny faces, high fiving someone, having a thumb war–whatever it is for you.

Most importantly, embrace radical acceptance and love for your body. It doesn’t matter if you’re thin or fat or average, tall or short or in between, able-bodied or living with a physical or mental disability or illness. Love yourself. You’re the only you you’ll ever have. Love. Don’t seek to control and shape and tame your body like it’s some kind of enemy. Embrace yourself and love yourself right this minute. Your body is not a project to be fixed. Your body is lovely. Right now.

Eat intuitively, move joyfully, and radically love your body.

THIRD, make time to engage in creative play. That might mean painting or drawing, writing fiction or designing web art. But it could also look like playing board games or Dungeons & Dragons. Playing tags with the neighbor kids. Going to the arcade. Crocheting Marvel superheroes. Make time for creative play.

FOURTH, be your most authentic self. That’s it. Be yourself. Surround yourself with people who encourage you–who make it easy for you–to be your authentic self.

If you’re like me, you may have grown up with people thinking you’re too much. I’ve always been told I have too many opinions. I care too much. I think too much. I talk to much.

Or maybe you feel like you’re not enough. If only you were more This, maybe that person wouldn’t have dumped you. If you were more That, maybe you’d have more friends. If you had more The Other Thing, somebody would like you more and give you some kind of opportunity.

You know what?

None of that is true. I’m here to promise you–PROMISE YOU–you are enough. You are enough.

You are not too much. You are not too little. You are exactly enough. You, just as you are, this most authentic you.

Be you. You are enough.

FIFTH–and this is the last point, I promise–be nice. Every person you encounter, from the jerk who tailgates you on the Lloyd Expressway to the boss at your new job, from your own parents to the person working the drive through at Starbucks, from the custodian to the President of this university–every single person is going through something that you don’t know about. Treat everyone you meet as if they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got at that moment, because that’s probably true. Assume the best about people, until you’re sure of the opposite.

David Foster Wallace talked about this much better in the commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. If you want to hear a REALLY good commencement speech, please listen to his.

But you didn’t get David Foster Wallace. You got me.

And I think these five things are the best I have for you.

  • Be your own best friend, with gentleness and compassion for yourself.
  • Eat intuitively, move joyfully, and radically love your body.
  • Make time to engage in creative play.
  • Be your most authentic self. You are enough.
  • And be kind. Always.

Thank you.

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Picture of a bright orange goldfish on a white background. The fish is looking at you. AT YOU. If you have no idea why there’s a fish, follow the link to David Foster Wallace’s speech. You’ll be glad you did.

In Spite of It All, Spring Comes

In spite of it all, spring comes.

This morning, I woke up and read about forty-nine people murdered in Christchurch, about the horrid, insidious spread of white nationalism, about hatred so entrenched someone justifies live-streaming a massacre.

Then my daughter spoke with me about her worries for a friend: how depressed are they? are they suicidal? how can we reach out and help people? how do we help and care while maintaining boundaries that allow us to be healthy? what are healthy boundaries? how do we keep others’ problems from consuming us?

Then when it was just my son and me in the car on the way to school, my son says: Mom, it seems like Gary is just getting worse and worse. Will he keep getting worse? Will he die?

So we had a long conversation about incurable, degenerative disease. We’ve had this talk before, but we revisit as needed. Yes. That means it gets worse. No, Parkinson’s doesn’t kill people, but, yes, it’s likely Gary will have a shorter lifespan than he would have. But no, he’s not in any imminent danger of death. And yes, we’ve lost things. It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to be sad, because we wish Gary didn’t have Parkinson’s. It’s okay to grieve. And yet, we can still hold onto the good moments, the things we have left, the things we share, the things we can do together, the love we all still have. But, yes, my sensitive, loving son, there is a ton of grief.

That was today, so far.

Yesterday was also kind of a rough and weird day, especially for my son. All of us were stuck in our respective work/school safe areas for about two hours during a tornado warning. He lost his favorite hoodie, which may have walked away with another kid. He had a number of other small, but meaningful-to-him disappointments. While I tucked him in, he burst into tears and said, “I think I’ve ruined my life.”

I was a bad mom in that moment. I laughed. I laughed without meaning to. I laughed at the over-intense drama. I laughed because he’s 12 and there’s no way he’s done anything close to ruining his life. I laughed because he’s wonderful and in no way ruined.

He immediately said, “Don’t laugh!” and all the angst and anguish, the giant life emotions, the earnestness of his pain rang in his voice.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry. You feel awful and you’re right: no one should ever laugh at you for feeling awful. Your feelings matter.”

No one should laugh at pain.

I held him while he cried and eventually fell asleep.

He said, “I think I’ve ruined my life,” but I think what he meant was this: Why is life so hard? Why is there suffering? Why do I feel bad? If I feel bad, I must have done something wrong. Why do I feel like I must have done something wrong when I don’t even know what that would have been? There must have been something I did wrong for the world to have come to such a state–a state of sorrow and grief, frustration and anger, loneliness, pain, hatred, death. Why? WHY? How can I fix the world? How can it be possible that I can’t fix the world? If you’re telling me I didn’t do anything wrong and this is just the way the world is, then that means I can’t even fix it?? If I can’t fix the world, then what next? Why oh why is there such suffering? Am I powerless over the suffering?

There is so much grief and suffering. The weight of it, when I allow myself to feel it, threatens to smother me.

And yet.

Yesterday, the first of our crocuses bloomed. Purple ones, which are my favorite. I didn’t plant these. In fact, I didn’t even know they were there.

We moved into a new house last May and these little gifts–these miracles–these bulbs now twine upward into the sun. Purple crocuses around one tree. Clusters of green stems and leaves race to show in our flower beds. Will they be tulips? Daffodils? Irises? Hyacinths? I have no idea. They are shockingly joyful surprises and I will watch them unfold.

Somehow this all makes sense to me, the way the pain and suffering intertwines with the gentle reminder of life and beauty, the notice me of love and light.

Yes. I will notice you, little bulbs. I will celebrate your beauty and bravery. I will let you remind me.

In spite of it all, spring comes.

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A cluster of five purple crocus blooms and green leaves popping up in brown mulch.

 

 

 

Odyssey and Hibernation

I’m back.

I think. Mostly. Or at least kind of.

January was a hectic, busy, overwhelming month where I took NOT ONE, BUT TWO Odyssey online writing classes (because I’m an overzealous glutton for work?). I learned a lot. I spent at least 15 hours a week on the classes (some weeks more). I wrote 24k words in total–and these weren’t first draft words, but were at least semi-edited and ready for classmates/teacher critique.

I also did all the normal things of life, like, you know, my actual paying job, parenting 3 kids, care-partnering with Gary, cooking at least some of the time (we survived on more frozen food than usual), and cleaning a bit (um, the house did suffer).

By the end of the month, I was pretty damned exhausted. I took the last 4 weeks off from any expectation of writing–I looked at a few things once or twice, but accomplished mostly nothing except rejuvenation. And that’s okay!!!!

So, Sarah, what did you think of the Odyssey online classes? 

I learned a lot and I’m still absorbing everything. I would NOT recommend taking two at the same time (SO MUCH), but also? I’m glad I did, because the two classes were so very different–the teachers were quite different, the “style” of the classes were different–if I’d only taken one, I might have a completely different picture of the classes writ large. I’m proud of myself for working as hard as I did.

What were your classes about?

One focused on “emotional truth”–depicting realistic, evocative, compelling emotional stories in writing. The other focused on “realistic descriptions”–using descriptive text to establish character, mood, POV, etc.

I went in thinking the topics would be quite different, but actually felt an amazing level of congruity in what I learned. I’m ready to put some of this thinking and some of these techniques to work.

Would you recommend the Odyssey classes?

ABSOLUTELY. You’ll get as much out of them as you put in.

What are you going to do now? 

I’m getting back to long-overdue edits for Rising Wolf, adapting SMASH for an adult market, and getting back to Marked. Edits first. Must finish or my editor may hunt me down.

Will you be around more on this blog and social media?

Uh, I’m not sure who’s asking, because I’m not 100% convinced anyone missed my presence, but YES, I’m gonna try really hard to be present. 🙂

Woot.

 

Starting 2019 with Happy Homework

I’m celebrating 2019 by jumping into not just one, but TWO online writing classes with Odyssey.

You see, I applied for two different classes hoping to ensure getting accepted to at least one…and then got accepted to BOTH…and then pondered and pondered and then finally woke up and said, I’m doing both. Yasss, queen.

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A squirrel holding both paws out and saying, “Everybody calm down! I got this!”

I am SO excited!

The first course is called Riveting Descriptions: Bringing Your Story to Life in the Reader’s Mind, taught by Lucy Snyder. Did you realize that descriptions do more than just tell the reader what the stuff looks like? So. Much. More.

The second course is Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers, taught by Scott Andrews. You know those books you’ve read where you feel completely connected to the characters–so much so that you mourn the book’s ending? Yes. That. That’s what I want to do.

I’ve already received my pre-class homework for both classes and completed one of the assignments. HOMEWORK!!! How I’ve missed you, dear homework. I love homework. Like, I kind of clapped a little bit when I got the first assignment and I may have possibly spent way too much time and written way too much…but that’s a good thing, right?

(This might be why I like Hermione so much. )

I love being pushed to work hard on things. I love being forced out of my comfort zone. I love thinking about things in new ways and learning. I love having someone tell me what’s wrong so I can make my writing even better.

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Lots of books. Lots. Yay, books!

Both these classes are small, limited to 14 people each. We have 3 synchronous meetings, weekly assignments and critiques. We’ll have individual meetings with our teacher.

I should expect to spend 5-10 hours per week on each class. Combined with work, kids, husband, and EverythingElse, I know this will be a lot, but I also think I’m going to learn a tremendous amount. Hopefully I’m also going to make real connections with other writers who might continue to be critique partners.

I might not be as active on social media for the next 5 weeks, because I’m going to really focus on my assignments and improving my writing. I’m also working on line edits for Rising Wolf, book three of Calling the Moon.

So…Happy New Year! 2019 is gonna be a busy one for me. How about you?

 

My Relationship with the GBBS

So…I have entered into a serious relationship with the Great British Baking Show.

I realize I’m behind the times and many of you have watched the GBBS for years, but it’s all new to me.

How We Met: One day, Netflix suggested I might like the GBBS and pointed out Season 6 had just dropped.

“Hmm,” I thought. “I like cooking shows. Maybe I should check this one out.”

What Was Your First Date Like: Honestly, I enjoyed the very first episode of Season 6 but I didn’t know how serious we’d get. I mostly thought, “This is soothing, these baking challenges are neat, I’m interested, I’d watch this again.”

When Did You Know It Was Serious: After a few episodes, I found myself thinking about the GBBS during the day and longing to get home to it. I felt connected to the bakers, the hosts, and the judges. One day, I realized I gasped out loud–an audible, thrilled gasp accompanied by a hand flung to my chest–when Paul shook a baker’s hand. This was it. I had fallen hard.

What’s Your Favorite Thing About Your Partner: I love that the GBBS is so different than most US reality shows. Most US reality shows try to showcase/manufacture interpersonal conflict and drama between the contestants. I do quite enjoy the show Chopped, but the little bios and quotes from the chefs are always things like, “I’m the best, the world’s best, and I’m here to show everyone I’m better than everyone, and no one else has a chance, take that, you losers.” On the GBBS, bakers genuinely seem to form a bond and root for each other. Sometimes they help each other out–lending a sieve or moving cookies to the final plate when time is running out. They often hold hands when the Star Baker and the losing baker are announced, which is SO DAMNED SWEET. Like, the biggest drama is whether Paul will choose to give a handshake or when something actually related to the baking goes wrong–someone puts in salt instead of sugar, a cake topples, a biscuit breaks.

I love the three very different challenges each week, two that can be prepped and then the absolutely surprising technical challenge.

I love the accents and “biscuits.” I love how soothing it is to watch things get mixed and to watch dough proof. I love the artistry of the show stopper pieces (and many other items).

Where Is Your Relationship Going: We’ve moved on to the next phase. I’m now watching Season 5. After finishing Season 6, I chose Season 5 primarily because someone told me one episode had bakers making a biscuit board game–and you know how I feel about board games. After Season 5, I’m going to watch the Holiday Show. After that, I’m probably going to go back to Season 1 and watch the rest of the seasons in order.

My primary plan for winter break is to watch a LOT of the GBBS.

What’s Something Special About Your Relationship: This weekend, my 18-year-old KitchenAid stand mixer bit the dust. The motor began to sound like a dying, growling creature.

It’s cookie-baking season and I’ve been watching a ton of the GBBS, so you KNOW that I could not wait long to get a new stand mixer. I hopped right online and ordered one on a great sale. I happen to love purple, so I ordered the Boysenberry model.

The next day, I watched the first episode of Season 5. Guess what? The decor of the tent in Season 5 features several colors of KitchenAid stand mixers INCLUDING BOYSENBERRY. Some of the contestants are using the very same mixer I now own.

Can you believe it? The GBBS and I are linked for life.

Or at least for the next 18 years or lifespan of my mixer.

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Picture of the gorgeous KitchenAid mixer in Boysenberry.

Moving Goal Posts

You know what human beings are really good at?

Moving goal posts.

There was a point in time when I thought: “If only I could actually finish writing a novel–a whole novel–it wouldn’t even matter if anyone else read it or liked it.”

Then I wrote a novel (NOT a good one) and it became: “Okay, if only I could write a GOOD novel that would get PUBLISHED and people would enjoy it!”

Then I published two novels and started to think: “Okay, the people who read my novels really enjoy them, but not enough people are reading my work. These two novels were with a small press. If only I could get a good agent and publish something with a better press.”

And I think: “I want to sell enough short stories to professional markets that I can become a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.”

I start sending out stories. Some of my pieces make it to the final rounds of cuts in really high quality markets. I get a number of personal rejections, not just form rejections. That’s all good. I know that’s good. I see the statistics on The Submission Grinder and I know how hard this is.

I sign with Irene Goodman, who is a fantastic agent–encouraging, thoughtful, and kind, with great connections and a solid reputation. She’s shopping around SMASH: Tearing Down Gender Rules. 

I’m publishing book three of Calling the Moon in 2019 with the small press.

I’m working on Marked, a young adult fantasy novel that I’m really excited about.

I got selected to attend a really cool online writing workshop and I’ll get to learn a bunch there (more news on that when I’m allowed to share it).

I write at least 5 days out of 7, even if it’s only 400 words some days.

Why do I keep moving my own goal posts instead of recognizing my accomplishments and appreciating how hard I’m working?

I don’t think I’m alone in this, right? Some of you feel this way, too? I think many of us have a hard time celebrating ourselves. Instead, we’re filled with imposter syndrome. As soon as we accomplish something, we move the goal posts for ourselves. We want to meet the NEXT goal.

I’m going to start thinking more consciously about this–about celebrating myself. You know how some football players do crazy dances in the end zone? They strut and prance and carry on a bit?

We need to do that more in life. We need to celebrate ourselves. We need to embrace our accomplishments and bask in them. We need to remember what we HAVE done–instead of always moving toward the next thing we want to do.

I’m going to work on this. Celebrating.

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I Stand Here Sobbing

It’s a few weeks ago. My workplace hosts a Benefits Bash. You know, one of those events where the health insurance people and the life insurance people and the college savings people and the benefits team and whoever else gathers together to hand out info on the next year’s plans.

They try to make it fun. The room is full of giveaways, like stress balls, pens, and notepads. They have refreshments. It’s kind of a hubbub as folks mill around, pick up information, and socialize a bit.

Except for me.

I stand sobbing at the prescription plan table.

My workplace announced we’ll begin a new prescription plan carrier on 1/1. This is part of their effort to stop mounting healthcare premiums. They hoped this would be a completely “neutral” change with no ill-effects.

But in the middle of the Benefits Bash, I find out the new plan “excludes” my husband’s major medication for his Young Onset Parkinson’s.

First, lemme give credit where it’s deserved: the benefits people at my workplace are kind. The prescription plan people are kind. The benefits brokerage people used by my workplace are kind. There is an appeal process and they will help me through that. Hopefully, the medication will be approved in the long run.  Even if the drug doesn’t get approved, the drug manufacturer may be able to help us with expenses. No one switched prescription plan carriers in order to make things harder for me or my family.

But.

But, but, but.

None of that matters as I stand here sobbing.

(Yes, intentional references to Tillie Olsen and Nancy Sommers.)

Gary was diagnosed at the age of 30. Now, he’s 37 with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. None of you want to hear the litany of symptoms and issues that have accompanied his PD.

You really don’t.

Parkinson’s Disease kills the brain cells which produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Without dopamine, your brain has a really hard time relaying messages to control a whole bunch of things–movement, digestion, sleep, etc. Lack of dopamine also plays a role in depression and apathy.

So, the main medication people with Parkinson’s (PWP) take is some form of levodopa/carbidopa. Levodopa is absorbed in the brain and changes into dopamine. You need carbidopa in order to prevent the levodopa from being broken down in the bloodstream, so more of it can actually reach the brain.

Rytary is a special combination of levodopa/carbidopa and it’s the drug Gary’s been on for years. Until now, it has cost us $60 a month.

Out-of-pocket with no insurance, it costs about $1,500 a month.

$1,500 a month

$18,000 per year

$18,000 per year

$18,000 per year

(Okay, I just wanted to make sure you saw that.)

The new prescription plan will cover other formulations of levodopa/carbidopa, so that’s why they don’t cover Rytary. But here’s the thing:

  • “Regular” immediate release levodopa/carbidopa is absorbed very quickly in the body and then used up. This results in dramatic on/off times. You have too much dopamine and lots of dyskinesia (involuntary movement), then it wears off and you have not enough dopamine, so you experience dystonia (muscle cramping) and bradykinesia (slowness/stiffness). It’s up, down, up, down all day long with some good middle periods sandwiched in there.
  • “Regular” extended release levodopa/carbidopa releases slowly over time. This means it takes a LONG time for the effect to be felt and you might be “off” for quite a while before managing to feel good during the days, even when you’re taking the extended release formula before bedtime. Overall dopamine levels tend to stay lower even once the levodopa/carbidopa has reached it’s full efficacy.

Rytary combines the immediate release levodopa/carbidopa PLUS 2 different types of extended release levodopa/carbidopa. The 3 types work together REALLY well to give a very smooth day. Just enough dopamine to feel good right away, not so much that it plummets before the next dose. Gary has the best results when he takes Rytary 4x/day–it’s the smoothest we’ve ever been able to get his physical symptoms.

(If anyone wants to geek out and read some supporting research.)

So. That’s why we need it.

Hopefully it will get approved.

Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully. 

The worst part? We can’t even begin the process to get Rytary approved until mid-December at the earliest…and possibly until January 1. We are going to have to cross our fingers that the process moves quickly and we can get answers (HOPEFULLY APPROVAL) before he runs out of pills in mid-January.

(What if we don’t know by then? Stop worrying, Sarah. You’ll figure it out. Right? Tell me right. )

But even if it DOES get approved? Here’s how this has already impacted us.

– I’ve spent hours discussing our situation with multiple folks from benefits, from the prescription plan, and from the healthcare brokerage people.

– I’ve spent a bunch of time investigating whether we should drop Gary from my insurance and try to get him on a Medicare Rx plan. Not sure which of those plans might cover Rytary–do any? But here’s the kicker: open enrollment for a Medicare Rx plan ends in December, but we won’t know about this until January. We don’t want to drop him from my insurance unless it is absolutely necessary.

Stress. Stress, stress, stress. So many what ifs and then whats. So many uncertainties.

– I’ve wondered if I should be looking at other jobs. I love my current job. LOVE. But…if we can’t figure out a way to make this work, I can’t afford $18,000 a year for a medication. And I also can’t bear to see Gary live with a lower quality of life than he has now.

There are days we barely have enough spoons to get by with his current quality of life. I can’t imagine how much worse it could get. (Except I can, because we’ve been in worse phases of this stuff. I just…really don’t want things to get that bad. I’d say I’m not sure I can handle it, but I always manage to find a way to handle it. But. Please, no.)

– Lots of tears. I’ve spent quite a bit of time crying about this already. In fact, I have a hard time talking about it without crying. I cry out of worry and fear, I cry out of anger. Not anger at any individuals, but anger that our system allows for this. I cry because I’m kind of embarrassed about crying about it in front of people who are trying to be kind–and then I cry because I’m mad at myself for being embarrassed about it, when this is a situation that warrants strong emotion.

NO ONE should have to worry about losing access to a needed medication.

NO ONE should have to possibly pay $18,000/year for a medication. How is that even a thing? Seriously…how is that possible?

I have a very good job with a very good employer and we purchase the best healthcare plan they offer.

Our healthcare system in this country is BROKEN. 

Utterly broken.

The unseen hours of work and research and stress about things like this have a HUGE impact on care partners, people with disabilities/diseases, and our families. I have a piece on care partners coming out soon in Disability Studies Quarterly; I’ll link to it here when it’s available.

So. I’ll keep you all updated. I’ll hope for the best.

But I wanted to use my voice and my situation to illustrate that OUR HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

Thank you for reading and caring.

Love (Even if I Don’t Remember the Color Feather in Your Hair)

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Picture of a crying baby. (Not one of mine.)

I’ve been reflecting on parenting a lot lately–how it changes as your kids grow. When they’re little, parenting is an exhausting slog of meeting physical needs. Do you remember the sleep deprivation? The agonizing over whether to feed them rice cereal or sweet potato first? The constant vigilance over their safety as they learned to move about the world? The tears and the smiles. The sleep deprivation–did I already say that?

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Three colorful plastic dinosaurs, one holding a sign that says, “Howdy.”

Then come the toddler years, full of play so alternately-wonderful-and-agonizingly-boring I often wondered if I could gouge my own eyes out with a plastic dinosaur. My daughter used to spin elaborate “role playing” scenarios: Mama, I’m going to be a mermaid and I have medium brown skin and a green tail with kind of aqua scales right on the tip and I have long flowing hair that’s braided with an orange feather and I have some purple flowers right here and then I have bras made of orange and purple seashells and my name is Cassidy and I have a pet dolphin named Banana who is blue with a shell necklace. Mama, are you listening? Well then, what color feather do I have in my hair?

Elementary years: where kids make friends and lose friends and experience the joys of school and the boredom of some-parts-of-school. My kids first experienced being left out on the elementary school playground. My daughter was surrounded by other girls and grilled/taunted. My one son was told to “man up” and not be “too sensitive.”

As they get older, I found parenting focused on allowing them as much independence as possible within a structure that set boundaries. They learned to express themselves, and tried all sorts of behaviors and activities. I did lots of modeling relationships, lots of discussions about identifying emotions and acting on them appropriate. Lots of listening.

My three kids are all tweens and teens now, in middle school and high school. Two of my kids are taller than I. One of my kids is dating for the first time. All of them have friends I haven’t met yet. Each of them still needs some boundaries and reminders–that’s enough screen time, did you brush your teeth?, drop that tone of voice and talk to your family like you love us–yet each of them yearns for more freedom. So what’s my role as a parent now?

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A parent and child walk on a beach at sunset.

I want to be the safe place they can bring anything and everything.

I want to be the person who will always listen and believe them.

I want to be able to share my own experiences in ways that are helpful, but to always remember they are their own people with their own ways of solving problems and thinking about the world. I want to give them that space.

I want them to start seeing me as a person, not “just” Mom.

I want them to understand the richness of our authentic selves. I want them to know IT GETS BETTER. After these teenage years–these hard, hard teenage years–it DOES get easier to be your full and authentic self.

I want them to know I understand how hard these years are. And I’m here, no matter what comes next.

I want to be fully present, fully loving, fully safe.

I want to hold them close, even as I hold my breath and watch them walk away.

hand-drawn-heart-vector-graphic

A simple red heart.

 

I Am a Lot

I feel things strongly. My emotions are intense. I am intense. My heart is full to bursting most of the time and often with a slew of competing-and-equally-strong feelings. I care intensely and immensely about people and issues and issues and people and all things.

We live in a world that tells us emotions are a weakness, that rational thought and logic and reason are the highest human achievements, that caring is somehow less cool than aloof objectivity.

Why?

Emotions are gendered feminine by our culture. We talk about women’s intuition. Women are assumed to be empathetic. We believe in motherly instincts. Our culture links women to nature, to animals, to children–to things that operate on gut instinct instead of intellectual arguments.

In 1972, Sherry Ortner did a fantastic job deconstructing some of the reasons for this in “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”–an article which draws on the work of Nancy Chodorow. She shows women are socialized to prioritize relationships and the subjective experience, while men are socialized into the realm of the objective and the abstract. Because our culture ranks the masculine above the feminine, we therefore believe that the objective, abstract, rational, logical, constructed is somehow more important than the subjective, relational, emotional, passionate, natural. That article is almost 50 years old, but I find her arguments still valid.

I’m thankful for a recent post by Captain Awkward which introduced me to Melissa McEwan’s essay “The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck.” (Side note: if you aren’t reading Captain Awkward, what are you doing with your life?? No joke.)

Read this excerpt from McEwan:

There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

There is the perplexity at my fury that my life experience is not considered more relevant than the opinionated pronouncements of men who make a pastime of informal observation, like womanhood is an exotic locale which provides magnificent fodder for the amateur ethnographer. And there is the haughty dismissal of my assertion that being on the outside looking in doesn’t make one more objective; it merely provides a different perspective.

And Captain Awkward’s recap:

I think about this “lady emotions are dumb, man logic is superior!” fallacy all the time…

Feelings are just one kind of information. Experiences are extremely informed sources of information. They are not the only information, but they aren’t not-information, either? They have a part to play.

What if we acted like the the people most affected by something/who have the most at stake/who have the most to lose/who have been the most fucked over by the status quo are the center of where our caring should go and the primary experts on what would fix things, but on like, a national or even global level? And what if caring for them was way more important than our “objective” debates about what they need and deserve?

In the meantime, the idea that “your emotions and your experiences with a thing make you uninformed and unqualified to talk about it, but my emotions (that I have renamed ‘logic’) and my lack of experience with a thing make me more informed and qualified than you” is a brand of bullshit that I will be fighting until my dying day, one really really long blog post at a time.

I’m reminded of my intense reaction to Wonder Woman, which I blogged about at the time. As I said then, “This movie stars a woman who stands for idealism, caring, a belief in love, a belief in the power of beliefs–things which, personally, I have been MOCKED for (and I’m not alone)–and turned those things into a portrait of strength, empowerment, and respect.”

wonder-woman-movie-artwork

It’s not better to be objective than emotional. It’s not better to be rational and distant than to be passionate and personal.

On 10/23, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted:

Gmorning
“You’re a lot
You have no chill
You’re so extra”
These are all COMPLIMENTS.
Apologize for your passion
on the day after f***in’ NEVER.
Let’s go!

I care about “too many” things. I can’t focus my desire for equity and justice on just one issue. I truly believe “there is no hierarchy of oppression” and we must band together to end all oppressions before making any change in this world. I don’t always know how to make change, so I write and I teach and I hope I can make enough small differences in enough people’s lives to matter.

My whole life, my biggest fear has been that I’m “too much.” I fear overwhelming people with my energy, my passion, my intensity, my sincerity, my thoughts, my words, my voice, my caring. I don’t stay in my place. I don’t act like a lady. I don’t stay quiet.

In my 40s now, I’m finally owning it. My husband once said to me, “You’re a lot, but you’re never too much.”

I am a lot. And I will use my “a lot” to change the world in all the ways I know how.

 

alot2

Image from Hyperbole and a Half, which you really should read if you haven’t. Caption says: “I care about this Alot” and the image shows a brown hairy beast with horns–the Alot–being hugged by a person. Note: “Alot” isn’t a word. It’s “a lot.” 😉 http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html

 

“I Don’t Weigh.”

“Oh. You don’t?”
:laughter: …. “Hold on, are you serious?”
“Does your doctor let you get away with that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll get in trouble if I don’t get two vitals for you.”
“I’m with you, honey. Now get on the scale.”
“Wait. What?”

For the past 18 months, I’ve refused to step on the scale when I visit a doctor’s office.

I’ve seen a number of different doctors during that time period–my endocrinologist, my regular doctor, my OBGYN, the university health center doctor, maybe more I’m not thinking about.

Each time, a nurse takes me back and says, “Step on the scale so we can get your weight.”

Each time, I say, “No, I don’t weigh.”

Each time, there’s been a moment of double-take, as if the nurse isn’t sure exactly what to say next. After a moment of confusion, either they ask why or they awkwardly move to the next segment of our appointment, usually taking my blood pressure.

When they ask why, I explain:

Because the number on a scale doesn’t actually tell you much about my health.
Because I’ve been surrounded by people struggling with eating disorders.
Because now I know even more about eating disorders and how toxic our weight-obsessed culture is.
Because I know dieting is the number one trigger for developing an eating disorder.
Because I believe in Health at Every Size.
Because I believe in intuitive eating.
Because numbers don’t help me love my body.
Because all my clothes fit, so I know I haven’t had a drastic weight change reflecting a medical condition.
Because I’m here to talk about XYZ issue which has nothing to do with my weight.

Would I step on a scale before an anesthesiologist decided my dosage before a surgery? Hell yeah, I would. Would I step on a scale if my endocrinologist was worried about my thyroid replacement levels and needed to confirm weight loss/gain? Yup.

Do I need to step on a scale to get a culture for strep throat? Or diagnose a sinus infection? No. No, I do not.

I’m not of a size/weight/shape where doctors routinely chastise me and blame Every Single Health Condition on some ill-formed “need to lose weight.” I know that struggle is real for many people.

I’ve chosen not to weigh as a protest against a system which fixates on weight as synonymous with health (it’s not). I refuse the scale in solidarity with my sisters and brothers for whom numbers lead to dieting leads to eating disorders. I refuse the scale to empower others to refuse the scale.

Join me?

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Picture of adorable Chinese water dragon with its head cocked to to the side, one beautiful copper eye looking at us, and gorgeous blue-green-brown scales–the only scales I wanna see!

“Featured pic” at top of this post is by Andrea Parrish-Geyer, follow her work here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tinytall/