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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Like a Girl.

Feminism.
It's been on my mind a lot, lately.
My mother told me at a young age that The Feminist Movement was merely a shield for Man-Haters and Loose Women to be awful. She said that women thought they were gaining freedoms by sleeping with whomever they chose and getting jobs but really they would eventually regret all that slutting around and wind up lonely spinsters. To keep me even more in fear of the Feminist Monster she told me that if I ever had sex outside of marriage I would contract cancer of the vagina and would go blind if I took Birth Control. 
Thankfully, like so many other bizarre 'life lessons' I was taught, I  took it with a grain of salt and then gleefully allowed my brain to be washed by my liberal leaning teachers as I got older.
Woo-Hoo.
To be fair...I don't think any of my teachers ever ranted about social-politics with the exception of a math teacher who said we should treat our environment with respect and not trash it. 
Gasp...what a freak!
Aye, but I digress.
Back to Feminism and well...treating Everything and Everyone with respect

Last month after ANOTHER shooting in our nation, we were reminded that some still see women as mere bodies meant to pleasure the whims of others and if they don't do so they will be killed and/or raped. Last week we got to watch some assholes on The Supreme Court throw women's reproductive rights down the crapper in the name of Relgious Freedom. 
So, as I picked up my Birth Control from the pharmacy the other day, I had a sense of gratitude that my employer will not deny my right to life saving health care and I do mean life saving. While I enjoy the benefits of pregnancy prevention, my main reason for taking birth control is so that my PMDD can be more manageable and I don't become an inconsolable and somewhat suicidal wreck once a month.
What struck me more after picking up my prescription was that I shouldn't even have to worry whether or not my employer will have a moral, I mean oppressive, objection to my right to control my body.
I pay for my insurance.
I work for it and to think women now have to consider if a job will support their rights as a human being to regulate their bodies is insane.
Do men?
It's my understanding that Viagra and Vasectomies are still covered.
So?
I'm freaking pissed off and not just about that.

Knowing that my High School student niece, despite having a life of her own and having overcome major obstacles as a child, is still expected to make food for her father and brother even though they are fully competent enough to make their own damn lunch has my heart breaking and feeling sad because I understand the mentality that has continued to thread its way not just through my family but the world at large. Being raised in a teeny tiny desert town with 3 brothers, a father raised in rural Ohio and a mother who was raised by her very Conservative Grandmother meant I would be raised to fulfill a very certain role which was assured by the very meaning of my name.
Alysa Mar'et.
According to a book my Mom read, it means 'Delicate Princess' and she reminded me of that on a regular basis.
To me it just screams 'Fluffy Flower Glitter Muck'. I thought it was dumb because I felt anything but 'delicate.'
I loved playing in the dirt, making car cities in the yard with my little brother, practicing ballet, helping my mother with chores, helping my father wash cars, playing with dolls and making forts. I don't think there was anything very unique about any of that but as I grew up I began to question why my brothers were allowed to do certain things but I was not.
I liked being a Brownie and a Girl Scout, however, I also felt like there were other things to do besides arts, crafts, double-dutch and roller skating. 
My older brothers got to play sports, cuss and go hunting.
I went to ballet 3 times a week and I loved it but I also wanted to play football, be included in camping trips and ride 4 Wheelers like my brothers.
The whole family would get together to watch and support my brother, Jon every weekend as he played football, ran track and wrestled his way to State Championships but my yearly dance recitals were only attended by my parents.
My brothers did not have to attend because well...it was 'girly'.
Ya know, boring.

When I was 10 years old my family was in a car accident that left my mother with major hip damage and also began her life long addiction to pain killers
For the rest of the family, it was expected that I would take over the cooking and cleaning. In addition, I took care of my little brother and made sure my grades never dipped below a B. If any one of those things did not happen I was often beaten with belts, wooden spoons, brooms or dragged by my hair by my mother. As we grew older, my Dad helped my brothers start their own Car Detailng Business. I wasn't allowed to participate. 
My brothers would have up to 5 cars a day to wash and detail during the weekends and would easily walk away with a few hundred dollars to put in the bank on Monday morning so by the time my older brother's got their licenses they were able to afford pretty nice cars.
Because, I wasn't allowed to work or receive an allowance, I had no money saved up when I was 16 so I got a job at a Frame Shop and was able to save enough to eventually get a car when I was 18. 
A girl doin it for herself, I guess, which was fine but a little bit annoying.

I recognize that the oppression I endured doesn't even scratch the surface of the violence, murder and educational suppression suffered by females around the world. I also know that my brothers were also told that they had certain obligations they had to fulfill. They were given jobs at very young ages, so they could establish a strong work ethic because they would be expected to be the bread winners when they grew up.
As expected, 2 of my brothers do support their families, now.
Very much so.

I also remember my older brother Jon being humiliated for crying when my oldest brother Jimmy thought it would be funny to spray the interior of a car with water after Jon had just spent 2 hours cleaning it.
Jimmy wasn't in trouble but Jon was laughed at for being a weakling.
So...it isn't too surprising that my Brother Jon, now speaks of "Men's work" with pride and doesn't consider the harm he has done to his relationship with his daughter as she resents being a shadow in his home despite accomplishing a great amount in her short life so far.
I'm angry about it.
I don't want her to resent her dad.
I want her to understand that he was raised in a family and society that fed him these stereotypes. I hope she will have compassion for his ignorance but I don't think it should be used as an excuse to hold tight to harmful beliefs that hurt humanity, in general, either.

When my brothers grew up they were praised for their athletic successes, their ability to lift heavy objects and run away faster then anybody else. I was never envious of the skill but I was envious of the praise. Despite getting straight A's and writing awards I never received the attention that my brothers did from my parents. What made me valuable wasn't my skill or achievement, it was needing to be the prettiest girl in the room. It was such a concern, that my mother "spoiled" me by gifting me with a nose job before High School. 
Hallelujah!
With fingers crossed, I think my parents hoped that their social activist of a daughter who spent her weekends volunteering for Tucson Aids Project and collecting recyclables would simmer down and make herself respectable enough to find herself a rich husband and be a trophy wife.
Me. A trophy wife. Hilarious.

It took me years to not worry about the fact that the face I saw in the mirror wasn't recognizable to me and remember that my worth was more that my appearance. I resisted the story that women were to be seen and not heard but I eventually fell into the confines of 'be pretty' and forgot my strengths and voice for many years. 
Sometimes, I still do. 
The younger and prettier ex-girlfriends of my partner still preoccupy my brain at times when I should be focusing on how to make the world a better place. My hard work, my compassion and my honesty are my strengths. My looks are nice but they won't last. However, the actions I choose can make a difference.

I am a woman raising a boy to become a person who respects everyone. 
A person who can pause and ask a woman for her time and not expect it. A person willing to listen and learn before reacting and I hope that I will raise a son who will eventually reconsider the answer he recently gave me when asked what he would do if he woke up a girl.
My boyfriend recently attended a workshop regarding violence against women. He told me of a study in which children were asked what they would do if they woke up as the opposite sex. 
The girls said things like " I would be President or a doctor."

The boys overwhelmingly said " I would kill myself."
Little boys said they would kill themselves if they woke up as girls.
If you need to stop and cry for a moment, please do because it is heart breaking.

I thought that there was no way MY son would say this. 
So, I asked him the same question.
His reply wasn't as severe as theirs but it wasn't far from it.
I'm his mother.
A single-mother who left an emotionally abusive relationship.
I work full-time, I care for him and financially support him.
I encourage him to share his emotions, to do what he likes...
He watches Spider-Man, he watches The Powerpuff Girls, he likes bugs, painting his toenails with glitter, he likes digging in the dirt and he likes helping me bake cookies. I work hard to expose him to balance, equality and kindness but yet...being born a girl still seems like the worst thing he could be.
Why?
Why? 
Why are we constantly working so hard to burn bridges that could connect us as a whole? Why is the idea that a woman being able to manage her fertility a threat even though men don't question their need to have sex, make love and just fuck for curiosities sake but women...no way should they have the same freedom.
No way!
Education. Jobs. Financial independence? Why is that a threat?
I really don't know.
I don't know why feminism is a dirty word that equally has women recoil and say " I'm not a feminist because I like men."
Maybe, feminism is too gender specific, as well.
Maybe we need a new term, then.
Could we call ourselves Compassionists?
Equalitists? 
Would that work?

I have been thinking a lot about Feminism. 
I've been thinking a lot about the fear that complicates our need to find compassion for one another and the fear that has even turned us into beings that look at our phones more than we look at one another and that saddens me.
All I can do is know that this girl will fight 'like a girl' to raise my child to love like a curious and open-hearted being.
That's all I can do but I think it's a fucking lot.




 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hello, Green-Eyed Monster Buddy. When did you arrive?

Last week I took a much needed vacation. 
It totaled 8 days and it was the longest vacation I've ever taken in my adult life.
I took time off to celebrate family, love and life.

The 1st day of a 3 day road trip was good overall.
My son and my boyfriend loaded up the car and set ourselves north towards Oregon.
We passed several desert towns that peppered the landscape like weeds clinging to life in patches of dirt.
They were dusty, prickly and unapologetic in their disdain for the likes of me and my little liberal family but I was happy just to be out of my element and experiencing something new for a change.
I had forgotten the pleasure of throwing your feet up on the dash and looking out the window to daydream and hold the hands of the ones you love.
It's as sweet as can be.

Our first major stop was Las Vegas.
One of my life's great loves, my Grandma Betty is dying. 
My plan had been to stop by to see my grandmother with little notice so that we could spend some much needed time together.
For years, we talked on the phone regularly but due to my lack of time management skills and her inability to continue long conversations...our chats have become more quarterly than monthly.
I just wanted to see her and despite some family drama it was a sweet visit.
My grandmother was bright eyed but not the same vivacious woman I've known most of my life.
I reminded her about the wild stories of her youth.
The anatomically correct dolls she used to make and her travels around the world.
We giggled.
My heart was and is full from our brief time to connect.

Days later...
We arrived in Bend, Oregon for my boyfriend's sister's wedding.
I like his sister...a great deal.
She is smart, funny and thoughtful so it was an honor to be included in her festivities.
They were AMAZING festivities that included a 3 day camp out in Sisters, Oregon and days of circus performances and activities.
I figured I would fit right in...
I tend to make friends with ease and am used to being around stressed out strangers but as soon as we got there I realized I was the odd duck.
My boyfriend's ex is also his sister's best friend.
She would be the unofficial Maid of Honor.
I told myself I would not feel awkward about it.
At first, I didn't.
I like his ex-girlfriend.
She's very outgoing and charismatic.
She is also younger, prettier, thinner and seems to have all the qualities that I know I shouldn't cling too as I age but...well, for fuck's sake...sometimes I still do.
I'm a grown woman who looks pretty damn good and makes a living doing what I love so...
I'm not exactly chopped liver, but still after days of traveling and a brief and unsettling interaction with my mother days earlier in Vegas...I was feeling a bit low.
Unintentionally, I brought my insecurities with me and by the end of the trip it felt like they were the heaviest suitcase I packed.

Regardless of my mental "Woe is Me", 
I figured things would go smoothly despite sharing space for the next 5 days.
Soon after we arrived the ex decided to confront the situation head on.
I respected her directness but also resented the conversations focal point of saying how awkward I (Me. Almost 40 year old Single-Mom. Me.) must feel.
It kind of sucked but I don't think the intention was meant to make me uncomfortable.
tried to laugh it off.
I've managed to be friendly with most of my ex's girlfriends so I see no reason to feel insecure about a love's past love. 
I tried to engage in conversation but insecurity began to overwhelm me, anyway.
It is a familiar place for me.
Often, too much so.
So...recognizing it as my comfortable foundation I dug in deep to root myself in.

I am always ready to embrace insecurity and fear...thinking that this time if I just 'pretend smile' more, I will have the upper hand but over time I'm always always left feeling more broken and vulnerable than before.

So...I took my feelings of unworthiness and retreated to throw myself a pity party.
Instead of acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation I thought drinking my insecurities under the table might muster up some liquid courage.
I was not going to be the wallflower of the weekend.
I'm funny.
I'm charismatic....
Years ago, I was the charming and cute one.

Ahhh... but as alcohol, tiredness and hormones mixed...well, I just became overwhelmed with a feeling of smallness.
Suddenly every word I said was the dumbest thing a person could say...
In addition, I was bloated and instead of only feeling 5 lbs heavier it felt like my body had morphed into a giant marshmallow that was also erupting with zits and matted hair.
Oh God? Reeeeally?

I had a meltdown on a walk with my son and boyfriend before we left to set up for the wedding.
It was ugly but after that, I was able to keep myself fairly contained.
Once we got there I figured I'd be distracted but also be welcomed by everyone there.
The entire wedding party were friends of family and my boyfriend and his ex.
The family was loving but the friends...well...even getting eye contact felt like a struggle. 
It felt bad.
Periodically, I would leave the festivities to either go for a run, explore the woods with Atticus or just walk back to the cabin to catch my breath and try not to have an anxiety attack.

Suddenly a mantra of 'Nobody wants me here' took over.
In my mind I was just the Short-Zitty-Gargatuan that kept following her child around and hovering in corners pretending to be in awe of his every movement when really I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry.

I was in Oregon.
Beautiful Fucking Oregon.
And...I even though I was able to appreciate it, I was just as easily pulled into Over-Dramatic-Hell everytime I had to hang out with his ex.
She is super adorable.
Oh...and smart.
Super freakin smart.
So...my smallness grew.

By the last day...my body, my spirit and my emotions were shot. 
My regular meditation and yoga practice had been ignored for most of the trip. 
I had consumed more meat and hard alcohol over the weekend than I ever have in the past.
I was toxic.
Toxic with shitty thoughts, emotions and expectations so...
I exploded.
It started small.
My boyfriend who had been busy being a loyal brother and Master of Ceremonies all weekend had promised to spend the day with Atticus and me but as I walked into the backyard it was everyone else enjoying his company but me.
Poor pitiful me.
My insecurities couldn't be contained.
They asked if I was hungry and all I could do was react with a very immature,
"No, I don't want any of THAT food".
Awesome.

Again...it just sucked.
I lost my shit. 

My boyfriend is incredibly sensitive to my Bat-Shit Crazy moments and quickly tried to remedy the situation.
We got in the car, fed me some food and we drove to a waterfall.
It was beautiful but even there it took me at least half the trip to pull my head out of my ass and breathe.
My son asked if "I was gonna calm down, now...so we could have a good day?" and I did.
Or ,at least, I tried.
...but I couldn't shake the feeling of being a 3rd Wheel.
It didn't help that I had been called by the Ex-girlfriend's name earlier in the day.
It just seemed to confirm that even though I had walked into the situation open hearted and wanting to connect...well, I was in a competition I had not practiced or studied for.

So here I am...back home in my Hot Desert Town...
Alone to process and get some clarity.
At first, I beat myself up for being so damn insecure, then I beat myself up because I should have felt insecure and accepted it...but honestly, what I've come to recognize is that I probably wasn't the only one feeling awkward.
The beautiful ex-girlfriend may had tossed the insecurity ball into my corner hoping to be rid of it but in the end...
I think it hit both of us.
She and I talked.
I don't know if we will be good friends...maybe that's a naive expectation.
But I will try.
I like her.

If there is nothing else I take away it's to recognize that there's nothing wrong with feelng insecure but to be jealous is to believe that the object of that envy doesn't also suffer and well...that's just not true.
We all gots our shit.

Today...as I worked with a very successful and beautiful woman who just turned 50...I found myself thinking 'I hope I have my crap together like she does in 10 years. She's gorgeous, strong, wealthy and Holy Crap she runs a non-profit to help children with cancer...I  don't know if I will ever be that awesome.' and as if on que she proceeded to tell me how beautiful she thinks I am and how amazing what I do for a living is.
Thank you, I thought.
She's right!