Magic Night Cream, Magic Night Cream, Do Your Job, Do Your Job

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Last night, I put my five-year old Stella to bed.   Well, I snuck in and stole the best part from Rick, who had her in her jammies, teeth brushed and she was in her bed with book in hand, waiting for someone to read to her.  I crawled into her bed by her and read her a story.

I love, love, love doing this with Stella.  I regret not loving it with my older two, Carly and Lydia.  We should have separated them more during the bedtime routine so I could have had more of this one on one time with them.  But mostly we did it all together, which made it so much more exhausting and chaotic and filled with fighting and bickering.  By the end of the day I just didn’t have the energy to deal, much less enjoy bedtime.

But Stella gets the story alone.  And she is so squishy and fresh and funny, and I adore it.  She loves the ritual of the hour, and I do too.  I read to her, and then I say, “Stella….”  as if I am about to begin a great story or tell her a fantastic secret… and she will say, “I know what you are going to say!”  I act surprised.  “How can you possibly know?  You can’t know!”  And she giggles that giggle that makes the cells in my body reorganize themselves so they can be permanently attached to her warm belly and her staccato laugh.

“You are going to say, I ADORE you.”

“Whaaaaaat!?  How did you know?”

I usually smash my face into the side of her soft neck at this point.  I feel so full of the force of my love,I want to breathe her into my body again.

Then, we do magic night cream.

My girls hands, (especially in kindergarten),  become so dry in the winter they turn bright red and crack.  (I now realize  it is a hand-washing and drying issue.)  It’s awful.

I have a bottle of Aquaphor by her bed that I rub into her little hands, and we chant, “Magic night cream, magic night cream, do your job, do your job…” a few times.  Just massaging her squishy hands, still chubby with the vestiges of toddlerhood just greases up the magic of the nighttime ritual.  Last night, I bent to kiss her cheek and she grabs my hair with her lubed up fists and says, “I have one more thing to tell you, mom.”

“What’s that?”  I lean in, her lips right in my ear, bracing for another sweet declaration of her love for me, and she says,

“Boca gum staaaaaaaah… bock, bock, bock bote bote…”

This is what she believes is the first line of the song  “Gangnum Style.”

Which brings on the giggles, and my heart bursts like an over-filled water balloon and I leave feeling like tomorrow, I can do this whole parenting gig all over again, just for the magic night cream, and that laugh.

I am holding tight to this right now, as I am desperately trying to remind myself to be present.  To ignore the phone, burning a hole in the butt pocket of my yoga pants.  To stop checking off the time I am with my kids the same way I check off my chore list.  To quit longing for that glass of wine and a good book, or a moment of peace devoid of Meghan Trainor on repeat and constant bickering.  To just Be in my body.  Be alive.  In the moment.  RIGHT NOW.   There are sensations.  And feelings.  And breathing in and out.  And those things must be noticed, if I am to live a full and meaningful life.  I am trying to wake up and BE.

It’s fucking hard.

So I did some searching, and realized that Stella’s magic night cream is my life line.  My anchor.  My one moment I can count on, where I am fully in my body.

PRESENT.

Right then, I am out of my mind.  I am in my fingertips, smoothing her chapped hands, feeling the dimples still in her knuckles and the meaty part of her thumbs as they connect to her palm, and I don’t need to tell her that I adore her, she knows because my love is a vibrating energy that is coating her, thick and protective.  It’s better than the magic night cream.

It is the invitation to be here, and nowhere else.

Magic night cream, magic night cream, do your job, do your job.

Peeling Back Layers of Ugly: The Gay Reality

This was it.

The expectant tension was building in our awkward phone conversation to an almost unbearable degree.  I felt myself struggling to regulate my breath and appear nonchalant.  He struggled for words, a way to open the door, for the very first time to anyone.

His fear became so present, it felt like we may shatter when he finally found the words.

My brother is gay.

When he finally told me, a few months from graduating high school in the spring of 2004, every single bad, derogatory, judgemental comment I had ever heard about gay people played out in my memory. We did not grow up in a home where bigotry and hateful speech was ever uttered.  But we grew up mormon.  A place where they talked about the sin of homosexuality.  A place where t.v. shows like Ellen, or Will and Grace were considered immoral and inappropriate.  Where traditional marriage was considered vital in protecting society and moral character.  Where being gay was being a sexual deviant by choice.  Where in 2008, the mormon church would rally tremendous money and forces in  to support Prop 8 in California.

 It was not a safe place for my brother.

 I remembered every single off-hand remark or gesture he must have been exposed to.  The jokes that were just not funny.  The gossip that had been circulating in our ward in Colorado about a girl my age, who had “decided” to be a lesbian, cut her hair, and ran off with another girl after high school.  The head shaking and tsk-tsking and whispers of how painful that must be for the family, how disgraceful.

Shame and horror over those flashes burned in me, a small taste of how it must have burned in him for years.  I wanted to crawl through the phone and wrap my arms around him.  I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him how I loved him.  How it changed absolutely nothing about how I felt about him.  How it was going to be fine.  But I was thousands of miles away, and he was hiding in his basement bedroom in my parents house, filled with fear at being fully seen for the first time.

We went from rarely ever speaking on the phone, to talking for many hours every day for several months. If more than a day would pass, he would call, filled with fear of what I must be thinking of him, the judgement I was making, the disgust that must have been percolating for him. His vulnerability made me throb with empathy.  My mother and father called too… begging for me to tell them what was going on.  What was wrong.  Demanding that I let them in on the reasons for our daily contact.  Their fears were an endless ticker tape of threatening possibilities in their minds.  It was the only time in my life I lied consistently to my parents.

Here is the part where I have to be brutally honest. and own the course I had to take.  It’s not easy to write now, but it is real.

I had no idea what to think.  Like anything else, if it isn’t happening TO you, it is easy to dismiss.

I never considered that my brother had chosen to be gay.  That was ridiculous. I heard the pain in his voice.  I could feel his fear.  I knew that an alarming number of gay kids take their own life.  There was no issue of choice.

But the first thing I wanted to know was… why?

I did research.  I read about sexual abuse.  Or having a broken and damaged relationship with a father.  There wasn’t a lot more to read about the subject, in 2004.

I confronted Gardner, asking questions without malice, but honest innocence and a desire to understand.   He was not abused.   Nor did he blame my father.

Eventually, I realized, it simply doesn’t matter.  If he is not choosing to be gay, it matters not what the origins are.  The result is the same.

Then…  HOW?  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  How could he possibly be attracted to… MEN???    He was so patient, calmly explaining things to me over and over.  He asked me to tell him why I loved Rick.  Why I was attracted to him.  And when I did, he said, “me too.”  And I understood a bit more.  I never made a conscious choice to like men instead of women…  It just IS.  And the things that I loved about my husband and reasons for my attraction were all basically things that my brother was also wanting in a relationship.  I am not interested in having a romantic relationship with a female, and neither was he.

It was the first time I had ever really pondered love, attraction, relationships, sex, so comprehensively, and from such a distance.  I realized that my perception of being gay was just about the sex.  What a ridiculous, simplistic view.  Love is love.  Sexual attraction is important, but certainly not the most important part of a romantic relationship.  DUH.   It seems unnecessary to even write about this, but it was a revelation to me.  An idea that had never presented itself in my community, in my upbringing, in my religion.

Then… what can be done?  I  read and researched ways to “cure” being gay.  He could go to  terrible places that teach inauthenticity, repression, shame, and impossible expectations.  When those don’t work, they hook you up to electrodes and physically “shock” those deviant gay feelings right out of your body.

Erm, NO.

Several months in to these discussions and as my understanding unfolded, I remember telling my brother that after careful consideration, I felt that if it meant fitting into mainstream society, avoiding painful rejection and ridicule, and being able to have a traditional family, I would give it a go… and have a relationship with another woman, despite it not being my preference. So… maybe he should go try to date women first.

In that conversation,  my ability to empathize with desperate gay people who marry, have four kids, and are caught cheating on their wives with other men was born.   These horrifying, naive suggestions… this  ill-formed advice was rampant in mormon culture at the time.  Marry!  Have kids!  Find out that you were wrong about who you are all along, and we were right!  Jesus will change you!

Thank God my brother weathered these inane conversations with me.  He watched my understanding unfurl from a tightly folded, tiny piece of closed-minded ignorance into a greater understanding.  With the understanding came more real support and love.

Eventually, we made plans to tell my parents.  It was truly a scary time for me, knowing it would change my family in drastic ways. I didn’t know if my parents would be able to handle it, to be honest.  I felt fiercely protective of him… the idea of him witnessing their shock, the potential of hurtful words and tears… I could barely stand the idea of it.   If it was scary for me, it must have been a time of blinding, paralyzing terror for my brother.

We knew the long road we would be going to down to redefine expectation and the story of how everything has to be.  What it means to support  and what it means to be honorable and authentic.

What it means to really LOVE someone.

It’s crazy what happens when you are willing to take a step outside of your judgement and examine what you have been standing on.  The foundation of your ideas about something that seems so foreign and threatening…. is really just irrational fear.  It is dishonorable enmity born out of ignorance.

Once armed with my newly developed understanding, and countless hours of conversation, once my brother had moved out of my parents’ home and lived a comfortable distance away, I told my parents for him, as we had planned.  Their initial reactions, their shock, their questions were first absorbed by me.

Even then, I did not support gay marriage….because what about society?  and the children?!!?! what about the children!!!  Every single message I had ever heard in my life surrounding gay marriage was about how it would destroy the very fabric of society, and children would suffer.  It sounds real.  And scary.  Who wants the fabric of society shredded?  And poor little children to suffer?

I remember a specific, terrible night when my brother and mother and I went out to dinner and my brother was left to defend himself on this issue.

I loved him.  I supported him.  I did not think he chose to be gay.  But should he be allowed to destroy traditional marriage?  Bring kids into a home without a mother?

I had two little girls at the time.  How would I explain their uncle to them?  Will I allow him and a boyfriend to come visit?  Display affection?

It all seemed so scary…. so scary because it had been presented that way to me by my culture and my religious leaders, and the politics I subscribed to.  It takes a lot of de-programming to see the underbelly of this particular bigoted beast.

Fear.

Fear unfounded.

Gay Love is simply  LOVE.

Love is love, people.

It turns out, it was really not that hard to explain to my kids.  One day, they asked me if my brother had a girlfriend.  I told them he did not, but he actually wants to date boys, so he would have a boyfriend someday.  They nodded, shrugged, and asked for a snack.

One day, my brother had a boyfriend.  I showed my kids pictures of them together.  They thought he was really cute, and their uncle looked really happy.

One day, they came for Thanksgiving.  And they held hands, and kissed after the Thanksgiving toast.  They played games and made the kids laugh and made memories.

One, big, happy family.   It was normal because it was normal.

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We are complicated beings.  Emotionally.  Sexually.  Intellectually.

Being in love can be complicated, as most of us know.

But supporting love is not complicated.

The other day, my husband and I were visiting my brother in New York.  His roommate asked how it was, when we found out my brother was gay.  And I wanted to say it was great.  I was the loving, supportive sister who made him feel totally safe and secure and loved.   While that was always my intent, that is not what happened.  Most of that journey is a great embarrassment to me now.    Peeling back layers of judgement and fear can expose some pretty ugly pieces.  Under all that, is the glorious recognition that none of the differences that  keep us separate and critical are there.

I felt the need to outline this story because I recognize there is a huge leap in understanding that must happen to help people out of their locked-in beliefs about the LGBT community.  I try to exercise patience with others as my brother did for me, while I found my way out of that trap of intolerance.  In fact, it is not a leap, but a shedding of skin, the callous layers that we keep to protect us from people that are simply wanting all the same things everyone wants.

Love.  Acceptance.  Safety. Affection.  Respect.

Surprise findings:   Giving another human being these things is not going to shred the very fabric of society, or ruin your children.

Your children will benefit from your willingness to get rid of those callouses and be open to more LOVE in the world.  They may be one of those tender souls that the anti-gay movement is so visciously attacking.   It may be your vulnerable child you are burning painful scars into with your bigoted remarks and support of anti-gay rhetoric.  It might be your child that will sit at the lunch counter and be refused service because of who they are.

Enormous, painful, angry, wrenching rejection… that is what has been happening in my family since my brother came out.

But thankfully, my brother was not the target.  My parents refused to be a part of their culture, an organization that they had previously devoted their entire lives to. My other brother and his wife refused as well.  We have all marched out of the mormon church.

We reject the notion that my parents should reject their son. We reject the ridiculous stand that suggests that my brother should live his life void of the most basic human need… the need to love and be loved.   We reject the idea that being gay is like be an alcoholic.  For holding hands with someone, feeling love and affection and connection found in romantic love is not the same as having a beer.  We reject the  preposterous suggestion that only a married mother and father can raise a healthy child.  We reject the idea that being openly bigoted toward the LGBT community is in anyway associated with being Christ-like.  We reject the theory that eliminating more judgement, bigotry and hate in our society by allowing gay people to get married and yes, buy a wedding cake, will threaten others’ ability to carry out their religious freedoms.

It is not “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  That is not love.

The fact that you watch Ellen, are friends with a gay person, tolerate them at your dinner table or let them give you a hair cut does not translate into real love and acceptance.

It is not possible to “love gay people” and stand against their ability to be a normal, everyday, respected members of the community.  That is not love.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Do unto others.   Magnify joy.  Celebrate love.  This will not shred us, it will make us whole.

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9 Things I Want My Daughters To Know About Motherhood

The Prophet

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, and yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward, not tarries with yesterday.        

                                                                                              -Kahlil Gibran

 I was raised to believe that my sole purpose, my divine reason for being,  was to be a mother.  I was to marry, and have babies.  Stay home, and raise them right.  Advance the kingdom of heaven.  Motherhood was my reason for existing.  It was how I must serve the Lord.  And I wanted children, so much. It was my mission, to grow up, and have babies of my own.

I have been actively trying to untangle these ideas about womanhood and motherhood and expand the definition of what my life can be.   I am discovering the shadow side of making motherhood my whole sense of identity, and tying all of my self worth to this role.   I have three beautiful girls.  Girls that I hope will grow up knowing they are loved and respected and safe in being exactly who they are.  They do not need to earn their worthiness.  To earn their femaleness.  They are worthy inherently.  Worthy of love, of happiness, of joy, of belonging.  I want them to grow up and not seek a man or motherhood to make them whole.

They are whole.

So just as I am talking to them as they grow about healthy romantic relationships, I also want to talk to them about motherhood. In our society there is a lack of honest, open discussion about what parenting is really like.  How it changes you.  People love to talk about it being hard… but not about the real reasons why.  I want to open that door with my girls.  Talk to them about motherhood and parenting with more detail and depth.   I am in the thick of it right now, and I am sure this list will grow and change as I evolve as a mother.  But here is what I know, one decade in.

Nine things I want to teach my daughters about motherhood:

1.     Every single person in the world used to be a screaming baby.  A mother  carried them in their womb.  A mother labored and gave birth to that person.  Every person. But  do not let the ordinariness of motherhood  fool you.  There will be many, many moments as a mother when you will marvel at  the idea that so many women have accomplished this seemingly impossible task, of bearing and raising children.  While motherhood historically is commonplace and unremarkable, it will feel anything but ordinary inside of your life.  It will be the greatest challenge,  the most consequential undertaking of your life.  Do not underestimate it’s enormity.

2.  Once that baby comes into the world, and into your arms, you will lose complete control of the most precious pieces of your soul.   Parenting is coming to terms with that loss of control.  Living in it.  Swimming in uncertainty.  And  wading in the knowledge that all the pieces you truly love, truly need, truly value, are packaged in independent people who don’t belong to you.  We declare ourselves as parents.  We claim our children.  We take responsibility.  But they are not OURS.  They come through us, and become.

3. You will love so deeply, it will scare you.  You will feel so vulnerable in that love, it can make you crazy.  You will feel wild with the need to make things safe.  Control what happens.   There is no place to hide from this love.  So be in it.  Embrace the vulnerability, and in that embrace will come the recognition of just how much I love you.  Let the recognition that you are loved as completely as you love your own child carry you on the days you feel too vulnerable to move through the day.

4.   With the first breath that baby takes, you are not suddenly filled with knowledge and light and glorious understanding on how to be a mother.  Or an adult.  When you walk out of the hospital with that baby, it will shock you.  The hospital staff will just let you leave!  And people you used to rely on for the answers will suddenly be asking the questions and expect you to know what the next step should be.

There is no gentle transition into this enormous responsibility.

 One moment, you will be working to bring the baby into your arms.  And the next, you will be a mommy.  Forever.  There will be millions and millions of questions to be answered, decisions to be made about the best thing to do.  It can be paralyzing, the amount of choices that will bombard you.  There will be moments and days and weeks and maybe years of time in which you feel like you have no idea what you are doing.  How to proceed.  Which way is best.  Just when you get the hang of things, and you feel like you have hit your stride, your child will enter a different stage of development, and you will  have to begin again.

Remember this:  no one knows what they are doing.  You are not alone in these feelings. Even the most confident looking mothers out there:  the ones that have a designer bag over their shoulder, a smile on their face, a perfectly styled baby on their hip… they are harboring the same fears, crying the same tears.  Holding the  same insecurities.  When people say parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do… this is what they are talking about.  The secret insecurities and the fears of falling short.  No one wants to name it for you, so they list the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, the public tantrums.  Because it’s too scary to talk about vulnerability and self-doubt.  There is no magic to make this less uncomfortable.   So learn to carry your insecurities lightly, and every time you have an opportunity, set them down.
5.  If you want to know how real karma works, make a list of all the things you will vow to never do or say as a parent.   Tape it to your fridge next to your ultrasound pics.  You know, things like “my kid will never watch hours of t.v. at a time,” or “I will not let my kids become picky eaters” or “I would never send my kid to school with banana in their hair” or “I will never lock my kids in their room just to get another 20 minutes of sleep,”  or “I would never let my kid wear the same dress to school for three months in a row!”

And then see what happens.

6.   Motherhood is staring into a mirror, inspecting the truest reflection of yourself.  One true difficulty in parenting is the requirement to face your darkest demons.  The inadequacies and flaws and dangerous parts of you can be hidden from friends and family.  You can hide them from your spouse.  And even from yourself.  But becoming a mother will crack you open.   Your children will see you. They will look into your eyes, before they can form words, and their spirit will know you.   They force you to look at the parts of yourself you don’t want to deal with, you never wanted to admit to. The intensity of your emotions and the enormity of control you will need is going to shock you.  No one in the world but your own child will have you swing from the deepest rage to the brightest joy in one afternoon.

You will have to sit in profound disquiet, sometimes for long periods of time, as you struggle to control your shadows.

During this intense personal unveiling, there is no place to hide.  Motherhood does not pause, it will not give you a rest while you find a way to heal.  You must do this personal healing and searching and while remaining constantly available for your children.    Because of the extreme intensity this situation creates, it is very, very important that you prepare.  Before you bring another life into this world, know yourself.  Know where your strengths lie, and your weaknesses too.  Own the light and the dark parts of yourself, and understand them…do not be afraid to look at these flaws.  They will boil to the surface in surprising moments.  Be prepared to look into your child’s eyes, and see yourself.

They are the mirror.

 7.  Guilt.  The guilt will destroy you if you let it.  Because motherhood will highlight your dark demons and deep insecurities, there will be guilt.  When you feel guilty, it is easy to leave it unexamined, to fester.   Sometimes, the guilt is thick and syrupy and leaves a sticky film over every experience.  Sometimes the guilt is heavy, and holding it requires every muscle, tendon, and bone.  And sometimes, the guilt takes on a life of it’s own, and will  chase you right out the door.    You must address these guilty feelings.   Guilt is simply a course-correction tool.  The GPS system.  When you feel guilt, sometimes it is for valid reasons.  You lost your temper.  You gave an inappropriate consequence.  You reacted without listening.  Recognize the problem, resolve to try again, and then…

Let it go.

This purposeful act of self-forgiveness will be crucial in moving forward, unburdened.  Many times, you may find that the guilt is not helping you stay the course… you are marinating in it.  Assigning guilt and feelings of failure to every move you make as a mother. It is important to recognize this too.  Because unaddressed guilt turns to shame… a dark and debilitating poison that can eat away your joy.  It is an easy trap to fall into, the ritual of self-criticism that turns to guilt and then to shame.  Work to release this pattern at every opportunity.  Recognize the difference between a learning moment and a toxic burden.  You will be actively teaching your child to learn from their mistakes, forgive others and forgive themselves.  You must be actively practicing this in your mothering.

 If you want to hold the joy, you must put down the shame.

8.  Refuse to believe and affirm

“My children are my life.”

“I am nothing without my kids.”

“I live for my kids.”

 Unfortunately, these declarations are often revered as the most powerful kind of love, owned by the real mothers that love more. My sweet girls, your life as a woman is meaningful.  It matters.   Your choices and passions and pursuits are important and worthwhile.   You can be a complete, whole human being.  Filled with love and joy and warmth and ambition and creativity and spirit and service.

Sacrifice is inherent in motherhood.  We sacrifice our bodies, our freedoms, our finances, our time… we give over our hearts to our children. But it is so easy to pour out too much, and lose our Selves.   Empty our vessels, and leave nothing but a shell behind.  My dear daughters, you should not sacrifice your self.  Children do not want that sacrifice.  You get to still exist, outside your role as mommy.  You get to pursue other things that matter to you.  You must be a top priority in your own life.   And this is the healthy way to parent.  Because your child is not YOU.

They want to carry your love in their hearts.

They want to know that they will always belong in your inner circle.

They want to know you truly see them for who they are.

They want to breathe in your strength, and see you stand tall in your own body.

They are individual people, and do not wish to carry your life upon their shoulders.  That kind of love  is a burden, not a gift.

9.   Cling to one single truth:  Love.

The one thing you can do absolutely right, is love.  Love that child with a wholeness that requires you to stay open to that vulnerable place.  Love them so they know that nothing is required of them to earn that love.  They will feel that love from you the most  when you practice loving yourself.

Open Me

rumi-quote

Birth is a powerful force, uncontrollable and raw.  It brings us into our most primitive, simple forms.  The design of our bodies, the synchronicity of our composition.  It is a compact, intense and potent experience…our whole life collapsed into a single moment.  The moment we become.

Become a living, breathing expression of our soul.

Become a mother, the soul inexplicably and forever tethered to another in the most cosmic and physical sense.

 

I have spent many years searching for the latent and omnipotent meaning behind this soul-altering experience.   I have also been searching for something.   A lost part of my spirit.A way to turn ON the dead parts of me that I have shut off and let die.

I have been aching to define it, give it words, give it LIFE…give birth to this need for the something I can’t even outline.

 

Recently, I have been drawn into working as a doula… a woman who is hired to support a mother during labor and birth.  I have moved into this work with a powerful sense of purpose…there is something here for me to learn.

 

To see.

 

To experience.

 

I need to be here, doing this.

 

Getting into the work has been exhausting.  Emotionally and physically draining, and challenging my patience and communication skills constantly.  I teeter on the edge of quitting, turning tail and running, cutting the stress and expectation and difficult  relationships loose and being freed from it all.  But I stay.  Because there is something here, in this work.

 

Something that I am meant to do.

 

What is it?  What is birth meant to teach me? Continue reading