Mother Heart

I am not a religious person.

I don’t got to church or temple or mosque. I don’t pray or bend a knee to Goddess or God. But after nearly fourteen years of motherhood I have come to believe in something, something fierce and  powerful and universal. Something outside of me, completely out of my control. Maybe it is Mary, or Hera, or Gaia. I don’t know the answer to those kind of questions. I only know that I’ve felt it. I’ve been wrapped up in it, been at one with it, some Jedi force of motherhood–birthed of something primal and fierce.

It would be poetic to say this connection to some universal mother’s heart is born of having had the lullaby of another’s heartbeat tied to your own for nine months, but I don’t think that’s true. There are mothers who did not physically bear or carry their children who know exactly what I’m talking about, and of course there are fathers, whose hearts rend and tear and rip as sure as any mother’s.

Yet there is something uniquely feminine and mysterious about the moon and the Earth and birth and the way it is all knotted together in this unknowable universe. There is something uniquely feminine in this great, universal beat of motherhood.

Maybe the drum beat thrum is tied to the planet or to the tides, like the blood that flows each month or the way that waves lap and play upon the shore. Maybe the gargantuan beat is held in place by the gravity of our own selves, hanging as pregnant as a full moon, ripe and heavy. It doesn’t matter. Through everything, it beats steady and strong.

Through mist or magic, or maybe even just the mundane, when you love a child, your own heart joins the chorus, picking up the tempo.

And so you go, until another mother’s heart suffers the unimaginable. When that happens, that central heart which sets our beat slows in mourning. It grows heavy.

Today I learned the son of an old playground friend had died. It was the kind of news where you do a double take, a triple, when you are sure you have misread or misunderstood. Because of course it makes no sense, no sense at all to lose a child, a child who was not ill or sick, a child who you’d only seen smiling and happy.

In what order of the universe is that ever acceptable?

And for the briefest of seconds you imagine the unimaginable–and in that split second of time, you can feel the splinter of another mother’s heart, in tandem with her grief, in solidarity with her loss. As my friend mourns her son, the heart of every other mother she knows weighs a little bit heavier, and the hearts of all the mothers those mothers know. And so on, and so on.

Perhaps that is why women keen and wail as they bury their dead. A dirge, not only for the dying, but for the living as well, a mourning song to lose yourself in, or to hide within while you put the pieces of your heart back together. Or a message, coded in grief: our hearts are breaking with you. Let us take the weight and bear it, even for just the space between a heartbeat or two.

A collective bleeding, a collective beating. That collective is why so many women, so many mothers, are affected so strongly by the pain and suffering of any child, their own, but the children of others they know and love, the children of strangers, who are in pain, the children of faraway countries who hurt. Because somehow, even though we didn’t bring those children to the breast, didn’t swaddle them against our heart, didn’t love them with the same ferocity and tiger’s growl of their parents–we feel it, because we have all imagined it. We have all had nightmares, shuttered our minds against the unimaginable.

When the unthinkable happens to someone we know, to a child we know, we are forced to confront it.

Let the Mother heart take over, my friend. Let the collective beat of all those motherhood hearts carry you through while you pause, while you put yours back together.

Let us provide cover for you while you need it.

I’m not religious. I don’t got to church or temple. I do not pray, not to any recognized Goddess or God. But I bow down to that great beating heart of humanity, of motherhood.

I know there are those of you who do. And if you do, please spare a thought, a moment, a prayer or a word for a family who is grieving. Who is suffering the unimaginable.

 

For Deb

 

 

 

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Dear World, Don’t Sell My Sons Short

Dear World,

Do me a favor, will you?

Don’t sell my sons short.

Let me ‘splain. No, no time to ‘splain, let me sum up….

You, world, you sell them short each time you assume they’re going to act like Neanderthals  simply because they are in possession of testicles and a willy. You do it every time you insist they’ll be distracted by the first spaghetti strap that crosses their line of vision, or an extra inch of thigh skin. You do it every time you restrict someone else in response to an embarrassing pubescent erection, which, let’s be honest, is just as likely the result of the wind blowing the wrong way as it is to an object of affection walking by.

You keep selling them short. You presume that somewhere, embedded into the XY chromosomes my sons carry, is a short-circuit which prevents them from telling right from wrong, from conscious choice and decision making, from weighing the options and coming down firmly on the side of acceptable.

But the animal kingdom! You cry. But biology! Precedent! You cry, cry, cry me a river as if human beings and society has not been a constantly evolving game of hit or miss all along.

So please, don’t use elephants in the wild to assume that my sons won’t be able to appreciate the sexuality of a peer without losing their shit and flunking algebra.

They are boys, not single-celled organisms. They are eminently capable of reason and ability, in possession of a morality and a conscience. Don’t give them an easy out or a ready excuse by claiming, repeatedly, they can’t help it.

They are capable of so much more than that. Let them show you.

The US Marine Corps. is smack in the midst of a scandal at the moment. Photos of female Marines, many to them explicit, were hacked, uploaded, taken and shared among a group of 30,000 male Marines.

Cue the tried and trite excuses:

“Well, what do you expect?”
“This is what happens when you have men and women serving together.”
“Men are lusty/animals/biologically programmed”
“All men do stuff like this. It’s locker-room talk.”

Don’t.Do.That.

Men are not static creatures. My boys are not static. They are dynamic. Society changes, we progress. What do I expect, world?

I expect that as a whole, we have moved beyond “well, what do you expect?” and on to “I expect better.”

Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to man up. Don’t tell them to grow a set. The need to cry, to empathize and emote–it is not shameful or womanly, it is human. They’ll be men by virtue of growing and maturing into larger, hairier versions of themselves. Don’t sell them short by handing over a definitive list of rules and regulations they need to meet in order to be men. Allow them the freedom to define themselves.

The majority of men don’t rape, don’t grope, don’t assault or assume. The majority of men understand consent. The vast majority of boys and men manage entire lives without uploading nude photos because they have been taught it is not right, or something inside them realizes it is not. If men truly were programmed to do those things, if that’s just what men ‘do’, does that mean all the men who don’t aren’t real men but imposters, traitors to their DNA?

Don’t sell my kids short just because they happen to be boys. Don’t assume they don’t know their way around a conscience.

Don’t give them the easy out of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men’. Not only are you excusing behavior, you’re excusing me from my job of parenting them to know right from wrong.

And in case you need a list to put on your refrigerator, here’s a starter. Feel free to add to it as you go along.

 

It is not right to ask a girl to take, send, upload or share nude photos of herself or other females.

It is not right, if a compromising picture exists, to assume you have permission to share that picture. Its existence does not absolve you of wrongdoing.

It is not right to force yourself on a girl or woman who has not given her consent. And yes, that means if you’re unsure, you explicitly ask. And if you’re still unsure, you walk away. Even if it would have meant getting your rocks off.

It is not right to have sex with a girl or woman who is drunk, on drugs, or in any other way mentally incapable of giving informed consent. Having sex with an unconscious girl is rape. Even if she was flirting with you an hour before. Even if her skirt rode up. Even if she’s lying naked on your bed. Why? Because women who cannot speak can’t give consent. And consent should never be assumed.

It is not right to expect girls and women to manage the way they dress, or act, or speak or behave because it makes a man uncomfortable. Boys and men capable of managing their own emotions. Let them. If a girl walks by and her spaghetti strap distracts a boy or man? It’s up to the boy or man to change their behavior, not to force the girl to widen her straps. Every time you assume a boy or man can’t manage those feelings, you are not only taking something away from a girl or woman, you’re taking away something from a boy too. The ability to manage his own emotions and actions.

Don’t sell my boys short. I have taught them, I am teaching them, to tell right from wrong, that respect is not limited to sex or gender, that just because someone else does it it’s not ok, that if it makes them question the devil standing on one shoulder, it’s most likely wrong.

We all make mistakes. We all utilize poor judgment from time to time–girls, boys, men and women. But don’t sell my boys short by excusing that capacity for judgment in the first place.

I hold my sons to incredibly high standards. You should too. Not just my sons. All the sons.

Love,
Me

 

Goodbye Sucks

airport-signEight years of expat (migrant) living has thickened my skin…to an extent. I can generally hold it together at the flag ceremonies and stand un-quivering through a chorus line of hugs. Depending on where on I am on the roller coaster of emotions I find myself riding these days, you’ll find me anywhere from stoic to sniffly, but I’ve gotten adept at saying goodbye.

Despite the increasing alligator hide thickness of my skin however, goodbye always sucks.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my mother and my sister and my in-laws who had all come to celebrate an early holiday with us. My mother and I had the inevitable conversation, the one about our next moves on the chess board of migrant life.

They are questions for which I don’t have an answer. I wish I did, but I don’t.

If I had to hazard a guess, there would be several phone calls between my mother and myself that stand out in her mind:

Hey, Mom, I met a guy!
Hey, Mom! We’re getting married!
Hey, Mom! I’m pregnant!
Hey, Mom! I’m pregnant (again)!

I know the one she is waiting for now, the one which will likely round out her top five:
Hey, Mom! We’re moving back!

air-travel-scenes-from-the-1930s-to-1950s-10

And yet I can’t make that call and I can’t even tell her when I may be dialing it in. There are too may cogs and wheels spinning that are keeping the whole mechanism running to separate out just one and answer it with any certainty. Why am I telling you all of this? Because all of this makes something which sucks on its own suck even harder.

Like I said, goodbye sucks.

They suck on either end, whether you’re staying or going. They suck the life out of you as well. Every time I see my mother (once every six months or so), I am walloped over the head with the fact that she is six months older. Then, as soon as I raise my head from the first blow, I’m blindsided by the fact that my kids are six months older as well. And that everyone will be six months older the next time we are all together.

And if you’ve ever felt the swift passage of time, let me tell you, when you’re only working in six month chunks, it’s like doing the time warp.

Children get older…and less cuddly, less interested in making gingerbread houses with their grandmother or playing a silly game with their auntie. They get older and grow less interested in spending any real time with Granny and Granddad. It hasn’t happened–yet–but doesn’t take too much imagaination to envision a time when it will.

It could be in six months.

Or six months after that.

airportWhenever I say goodbye, after I get over my irrational fears about planes and fireballs and Bermuda Triangle disappearances, the real fears rush in to take their place.

My kids marching toward teenager-hood is an eventuality which supersedes where we live. But…somehow the idea of my headphone adorned teenager ignoring my mother once a month is more palatable than the idea of him ignoring her once every six months. The idea of my little one preferring a computer game over a game of gin rummy with his aunt tugs at my heartstrings a bit more when it’s only twice a year.

Yeah. LIke I said. Goodbyes suck.

 

There’s No Medal At the End of Motherhood

Last night some friends and I went to see Bad Moms. After explaining to the non-Americans that yes, shit like that really does happen in American PTA meetings, we talked about the idea of women doing it all.

Why do women so often feel that no matter what we do as mothers it is never enough? Why do we carry around the idea that if only we do better, do more, then we’ll win at it?

Motherhood isn’t a sport you can train for. It’s not a game you can win.

There’s no medal waiting for you at the end of motherhood.

You work your ass off. You give up cheese and wine and deli meat for nine months. You stop dying your hair. Most of us give up a a body part or two (did I ever tell you how being pregnant wrecked my teeth?). You give up sleep and sex and alone time. You give up hobbies, the Sunday paper in peace, Saturday afternoon naps. You give up crappy take out for dinner five nights out of seven, impromptu happy hours, spontaneous, last-minute vacations, holidays out of school term. A lot of us give up our identity, a career, money, high heel shoes, dreams.

But guess what? There’s still no freaking medal at the end.

Once you are a mother, you’ll be a mother until you shuffle off this mortal coil. It gets easier and then harder again, then presumably easier. It’s like head lice, you think you’re good but it keeps coming back. But it doesn’t end.

Do you know what’s at the end of motherhood? Death. Death is at the end of motherhood. And even then you’ll probably be dragged out in therapy sessions.

Motherhood is not the Olympics. You’re not going to come in first just because your Rice Krispie treats are made with homemade marshmallow. You’re not going to win the gold because your kid does three activities or because you made a conscious decision for them to do no activities and play around in the mud all day instead. You’re not going to get to stand on the podium in your Mom podium pants because you schlepped your kid around to play on three different teams or learn Latin. You’re not going to smash a mother record because you get by on the least amount of sleep or breast-fed your kid the longest. No matter what you squeeze into your day or what you don’t, what kind of cakes you bake or buy, you’re never going to get a medal.

ussr_female_handball_team_wins_1980_olympic_games

There’s no silver for you because you puree kale in your mini food-processor and freeze it in little cubes. There’s no bronze for me because I try to write honestly about motherhood.

Motherhood isn’t a race. It’s not an endurance sport that requires training and multiple hydration stops (unless you’re talking wine). Sure, we all want to find our personal best, but that personal best shouldn’t be about how much we can fit in (or conversely, how little we can do), but finding a balance between raising children to be healthy, functioning adults and being healthy, functioning adults ourselves.

Trying to do too much, to be all things, to be the best at all things–maybe it might make you feel like you’re doing it all, but at the end?

Still no medal.

If you’re lucky you might get some flowers and brunch on the first Sunday in May.

You can bake the best cakes and throw the best parties and sew the best Halloween costumes. You can create Van Gogh inspired lunches or be the one who volunteers for every field trip, who sits in the front row for every assembly and concert. Or you can brag loudly about doing none of those things.

There’s still no medal.

The moms in Bad Moms were exaggerated examples (mostly), but they were recognizable enough to make me question why so many of us take a thing like motherhood, which is hard enough, and make it into something impossible?

Women are smart and talented and intelligent and creative and capable. Then we have kids and all of that multi-faceted-ness I love about women gets squeezed into the narrow channel of motherhood where it bulges like a hernia. Eventually it explodes into something resembling what we have now: Mothers going for the gold.

Being a good mom–or even a bad mom–doesn’t have to be the sole defining factor of your existence. It can be an important one, even the most important one if that’s what you choose, but don’t let anyone else make that choice for you. Because even though motherhood may feel like a competition at times, it’s not.

There are no podium pants. There are no podiums. No one’s going to raise a flag or sing an anthem or ask you for an interview or put you on a box of diapers as the face of Motherhood. No ticker tape parades or entries into Wikipedia. There are no trophies or consolation prizes.

There is no medal at the end of motherhood. The reward is kids who grow up to lead respectful lives, who contribute in some way to the betterment of society–even if that betterment is being a kind soul. That’s your reward. And it’s worth more than any medal.

Just don’t kill yourself trying to get there or you’ll never get to enjoy the result.