Yeah, I have another one. It’s called Ms. Michelann (notice that little play on words thingy?) and I’m writing about some combination of my PhD studies and Feminism and some other stuff. It’s more political and scholary, but it’s where most of my thoughts and feelings are ending up these days. Check it:
Scholar, feminist, gender rebel, writer, speaker, mom, wife, and deep-thinking sci-fi-loving nerd. I aim to misbehave.
I started graduate school (again-long story) and have started a new blog to talk about my research, interests, and learning. It’s called Ms. Michelann. It’s going to deal a lot with feminism, internalized misogyny, gender spectrum, and whatever else I end up doing a lot of research on. Check it out!
Over the course of the last decade or so, I have spent a great deal of time learning to recognize, understand, and practice healthy ways to express with my feelings. There are many ways to do this. I’ve done therapy, meditation, journaling, group therapy, art, dance, and more. Maybe some of these activities helped me prepare for the onslaught of overwhelming, and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable feelings brought on by the birth of my daughter, but maybe not. Nothing really can.
Perhaps I should have taken this as a clue that there is no promised land where we are totally okay with difficult feelings, but I didn’t. At some point I had absorbed the idea that if I was truly enlightened or healthy or whatever I would be totally serene and centered when dealing with the physical and mental exhaustion that comes from all the joy and rage and terror and happiness that babies bring. I didn’t give myself a break and listen to what my trusted friends and mentors told me; parenting is hard, go easy on yourself. Instead, my inner critic kept saying things like, “If your were healthy you wouldn’t be so scared. You wouldn’t get so angry.” So I took already difficult emotions and piled judgement and censure on top.
I don’t mean to pathologize myself particularly. We all enter parenthood singularly unprepared for its demands. I don’t care how old or young you are, or what gender. Parenthood is the ultimate humbler, and I think the more together your shit, the further you have to fall. We all start off totally incompetent and inexperienced. If it was a job we were interviewing for, we would not get hired.
However, my daughter has recently forced me to recognize that everyone tries to get away from bad feelings, including little kids who hopefully haven’t been on the planet long enough to have trauma-induced behavioral patterns. She is learning to recognize and verbalize her feelings. It’s an amazing thing to see – if she is having a totally non verbal tantrum, and I can help her verbalize her feelings, the intensity of the feelings instantly decreases. As soon as she says, “I’m sad!” the emotion starts to dwindle. When another kid knocks her down or takes a toy, she tells them what she wants and how she feels about it – she doesn’t automatically run to an adult to mete out judgement and punishment, because that’s not how her parents and her school deal with it. I’m very proud of all these things.
But what is remarkable to me is how hard it is for her to get out of her lizard brain and activate her verbal centers. I mean, here is a kid with an amazing sense of self. She is loved and loving, spunky, and resilient. Hopefully we have done well (so far) in setting boundaries without shaming her and damaging her self image. Not that we are without daily screw ups, but I have yet to see her really internalize a bad feeling about herself. She gets angry or sad when she doesn’t get her way, but not ashamed. Shamed children tend to look hunched over, or frozen, or have a glazed look in their eyes. I’ve watched it happen to other kids and it’s not pretty. The funny thing is I had this unconscious assumption that her strong self meant that she would exhibit my idealized zen monk-like ability to tolerate her emotions. As it turns out, my fairly healthy and normal three year old really dislikes being sad or angry or scared, too. Go figure. A couple months ago when she would cry about something (usually something I wouldn’t let her have or had to take away from her – no, you can’t play with the screwdriver, or splash in the toilet bowl, or sit on the dog) she would tearfully say. “I don’t want to be sad! I want to be happy!” Because being sad is really uncomfortable. It’s not a learned thing, and it’s not a product of our weird society. It’s just hard. She has yet to understand that all feelings are transitory – every moment looms very large in her experience. Her latest cry is, “I want my feelings back!” I’m not sure how to interpret this, but I have an idea. Feelings like sadness or anger are usually brought on by an external event – often another person. I can imagine that when something makes her suddenly sad or scared she feels like her good feelings had been taken away from her. A few months ago our dog Persephone grabbed a piece of bread out of her hand. She spent the next 30 minutes screaming, “Give me back my bread Sephy! Give it back!” I guess Persephone took her good feelings away when she stole the bread. The harder thing is to teach her that emotional pain is temporary and usually not physically dangerous. It doesn’t make it feel better in the moment, but it helps to tolerate the feeling until it passes. Her sense of the passage of time is still very different from mine, so this is a challenge. Who am I kidding? I have a really hard time remembering the same thing, and I have almost 40 years on her.
Anyway, the thing that my daughter has taught me is that everyone dislikes feeling sad, scared, or angry most of the time. Occasionally sadness is cathartic and feels like a huge relief, but I think it’s rare. There is a part of our brain that can’t distinguish between physical danger and psychological danger, and that part can get very loud (much like a three year old) when we are upset. Everyone retreats to that non-verbal, lizard brain place when the feelings become overwhelming, and that is where it becomes difficult to remember that this feeling isn’t forever, it’s just right now. So watching my daughter struggle with what is is to be human has helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with my struggle. And anyone who tells you that you are having uncomfortable feelings because there is something wrong with you, instead of because life is just that way, is full of it.
I’ve been meditating, contemplating, praying, journaling, painting… and asking the Universe to help me loosen up, see what is around me, and get some fulfilling, lucrative work going. A few weeks ago I just put it out there – I want to teach. I taught my last class at the university I adjunct at last fall, and it’s been crickets since then. With only a Master’s degree, I fall somewhere in between someone with a PhD and a janitor in qualifications. Enrollment has been down, so adjuncts at my school have been hurting. But on some level I tend to get caught up in the “good things happen because I’m doing it right” and “good things don’t happen because I’m doing it wrong” trap. A mental distortion I’m quick to point out in others but slow to recognize in myself.
Anyway, last Thursday the Universe ponied up and I got the call to teach a class for the fall. In a week and a half. That I had never taught before. Yikes. I’ve done this twice before, but usually with at least a month of lead time. Luckily, the topic is Marketing Communications, a field I spent a long time in and feel relatively comfortable with. That said, there are more complications. The first night of class is on the second day of my family vacation. So I need to figure out how to do an online class. Lots of boring but time-consuming logistical complexity entailed with that. Plus, the day after I get back from my vacation, I am supposed to do a training session at a non-profit in town on a completely unrelated topic and I’ve been kind of blocked up about how to approach it. So, now I have a week to figure all of this shit out. While maintaining my normal over-committed schedule and praying (please please Universe) that nobody in the family gets sick, including catching that 24 hour stomach bug from hell that is going around.
So, I’m writing in my blog. Procrastination is part of my process. No, really. I am also epically sleep deprived since my kid has decided 5:30am is a fine time to wake up, and I’m trying to wean off the sleeping pills I’ve been taking since she was born.
Do I sound stressed out? I’m a little stressed out. But I have to say, being stressed out about teaching a class is my favorite kind of stressed. My husband will attest that I’m a happier person when I’m teaching.
Meditation – I’ve been doing it consistently. I was really attached to the Shamatha form for a long time, but during a fit of crazy, I signed up for a 20 day yoga challenge, a 21 day meditation challenge, and a 28 day meditation challenge. The upshot of which meant exposing myself to a lot of styles I wasn’t so familiar with. Both meditation challenges were Vedanta based, so that was interesting. I’ve really just done Buddhist meditation, and they similar on the surface but different underneath. In a nutshell, it seems like Vedanta (and Kundalini Yoga) meditation are more about tuning into a universal frequency that is blissful and supportive. In the process, it is easier to accept what is going on in my body and mind with more compassion. Buddhist meditation is more about just sitting with and accepting the present moment, whether it’s blissful or painful or tired or happy. I think both are really valid, good practices. I tend to alternate between them, depending on what I need. If I’m keyed up and jittery, Shamatha is more helpful since I’m not going to be letting much in when I’m all armored up. But when I feel vulnerable or depressed (sometimes I call it porous), the practice of connecting to something greater can be (and has been) really powerful and healing.
Anyway, I could go on for a while but I think I had better crack open that syllabus and start figuring out what the hell I am doing. Have a blessed day!
For the first part of this story, check out my guest post on The Pagan Princesses where I talk about my first brush with the divine, from the perspective of five years after.
Durga, Mother of the Universe
In recent years, with the advent of my marriage and the birth of my child, it seemed as if I had backslid in my spiritual development. I stopped meditating regularly, and just kind of coasted on the faith of what I had experienced before. But during my pregnancy, and when I was suffering from postpartum depression I felt profoundly isolated and alone; I felt abandoned. I still thought God was there, but it was as if It couldn’t reach me, or I couldn’t hear It.
Now I am again at a crossroads in my life. Stress and questions about my identity have driven me back to meditating, back to actively seeking. Five years have passed since my spiritual awakening, and while I still have faith that what I experienced was authentic, that sense of being connected to the source of being has faded leaving only memories and occasional flashes of insight.
As I rediscover and reconstruct my faith, it is clear to me our experience of the Eternal changes as our lives change. When I had my awakening I was unmarried, childless, and between careers. There was a lot of room for God to slip in and make Itself known to me. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment also seemed to make a great deal of sense when my life was in this in-between place.
Now I am a mother, and am totally, inexorably, tethered to this world and this life by my child. Accepting impermanence is so much harder when there is someone in the world whose existence is so crucial to me. When I first started meditating again, I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult. Why was it so hard to let go of my attachments for a little while and just breathe? It is because there is someone in my life whose breath is more important to me than my own. To get a little Pagan on you, I have passed from the Maiden phase of my life into the Mother phase, which I believe is by its nature profoundly attached. In Buddhism, non-attachment means accepting things like sickness and death. As a mother I find that pretty much impossible. I cling; I worry. I entered this phase relatively late, with a strong sense of identity — which motherhood blew to bits. What is the tradeoff for losing my ability to detach? Love. Mind-bending, terrifying, overwhelming love. The ability to love with a ferocity and depth and selflessness I did not have before becoming a mother. And I think that accepting my love, rather than my fear, is the path I need to follow to reconnect with my Spirit.
As I revisit the teachings that resonated with me before, I am also exploring the polytheistic aspects of Hinduism. The Hindu religion is incredibly diverse and varied. Sri Ramakrishna, a Hindu prophet or “Avatar” from the late 19th century was the father of modern Vedanta. He was one of those people with a direct line to God, which made him a little crazy. He was able to reach the divine through almost any path. He could meditate on Kali, or Christ, or Krishna, or just on the breath itself, and ecstatically merge with God. (He also thought he was a monkey for a while. I’m glad I’m not a prophet.) So as I reconcile myself to the changes that motherhood has brought, I find myself looking more to the Hindu goddesses for identification. In the West, female archetypes are very strictly broken up into Maiden, Mother, or Crone. They tend not to share traits – you are in one phase or the other. Remember when Hillary Clinton got all that flack for not wanting to “stay home and bake cookies”? Our society is not so great at accepting that a powerful, intellectual woman can also be a nurturing, devoted mother.
Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Music
The Hindu goddesses are much more complex. When I contemplate Kali
, or Saraswati
, I feel more at peace with the multiplicity of my own experience as a woman. I also have taken some inspiration from the Princesses
and spent more time communing with my grandmother who passed away shortly after I was married. I’m learning that fluidity and flexibility are traits of the Goddesses, and my birthright as a woman. I find the fullness of contemplation is as useful as the spaciousness of meditation, and I can pass between them as I wish. Goddesses are all about transformation, and I am starting to allow myself to transform.
I will enter yet another phase of my life in the coming year – I am starting a Doctoral program. And while I can’t always look into the sky and see God, certain things resonate in my body and heart in an unmistakable way. This path, the path of the scholar, feels incredibly right to me. Looking into my daughter’s eyes or holding her hand feels as if a hot, beautiful, painful beam of light is penetrating my heart and connecting me to all the mothers and daughters before me. Meditation soothes my soul helps me be more compassionate.
The emptiness of Shambala doesn’t resonate with me as much as the fullness of Vedanta, although the practice of Shamatha meditation is still a good exercise for my busy mind. The Mother phase of my life seems the most tied to gender. I think God is still speaking to me, but that voice is now more female and urges me to embrace my own womanhood fully. Her voice sounds a lot more like my own. In Hinduism, there is a branch called Shaktism, where the highest form of Brahman stems from the feminine instead of the masculine. It is still practiced widely in India and elsewhere, and I find this idea entrancing. In the end, I hope I can be a little like Ramakrishna – that I can find Spirit through many different paths, depending on where I am in my life. That I can be a little less rigid, and a little more fluid with how I connect to my source, and to the people I love.
Hey, guess what (all three people who still have this blog in their feed)? I’m going to be blogging again! I’m still doing the food blog thing, which I love, but I have a brain full of thoughts so I I’m going to be back here writing about various stuff on occasion. Spirituality, kids and poop, you name it. And this week I’m going to be a guest blogger on The Pagan Princesses! Woo!
So stay tuned. I may even post pictures and things. It will be crazy!
Okay, so I’ve had two different but connected experiences lately. Some women I know are pregnant for the first time, or just had babies, and I desperately want to give them unsolicited advice. I know, everyone gives unsolicited advice to pregnant and new moms. But mine is so good! Mine isn’t all intrusive and fucked up like all that other advice, really! Except I think I just weird people out. Just like I was weirded out when people told me seriously random shit about their horrific childbirth experience, or post-partum healing, or whatever. When it’s your first time, all you want to do is stick your fingers in your ears and go, “LALALALALALALA!” And honestly, that might be the smartest thing. Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and new parenthood is totally different. And the advice-givers are more interested in validating their decisions or sharing their trauma than helping. Hmm. That might apply to me as well.
The other thing is I keep daydreaming about getting pregnant again. It would have to be an immaculate conception because David will move to Mexico to be a dive instructor before he gets me pregnant and signs on for another 1.5 years of Crazy Alternate Wife. I think some of it has to do with wanting to get another shot at doing it right. Which is nuts for more reasons than I can count. Also, my hormones (a.k.a. Continuation of the Species Chemicals) tell me there is nothing more beautiful and desirable than getting pregnant right before a fucker of a hot summer. Because they lie and they hate me.
So I give you, “Stuff I wish I’d know/done/ignored before and after birth” in the hopes that I will no longer feel the need to brain dump on unsuspecting pregnant women or beg my husband to knock me up again. I’ll let you know how that works out.
Pregnancy stuff I think you need/should know/do
- Don’t listen to advice unless you ask for it. Change the subject or ask them to stop.
- Don’t listen to birth stories unless you have asked to hear them. They just make you crazy and paranoid and have no relevance to your birth. At all.
- Don’t freak out about/over prepare for/ spend a whole lot of extra money on the birth. I wish I had taken all the money I’d spent on my doula and used it for a post-partum helper. That $750 would have gotten me a lot of naps.
- Prenatal Yoga is The Bomb. It helped me physically and emotionally. I got support from the other ladies, respectful advice, and made some good friends who have become my primary mama support group. Physically, it made a huge difference. Start when you get pregnant and keep going until you can’t move your toes any more. That being said, try different classes until you find one you like. There are some great tirades way back in this blog written after going to classes I didn’t like.
- Get The Snoogle. Dear God, I hate that name. But you can wrap it around you multiple ways and you’ll need that as the baby grows and your body doesn’t work the way it used to. It will allow you to sleep without setting up a mountain of pillows you have to dismantle every time you have to get up to pee, which may be many, many times per night.
- If you’re going to take a babymoon, don’t be an idiot like me and take it in the first or third trimester unless you’re one of those freaks who never gets nauseous or swollen or uncomfortable. Aim for the golden second trimester when you’ve got energy but you’re all cute and pregnant looking.
- This is really for after, but get the My Brest Friend Deluxe (oh dear God what an awful name) nursing pillow and put it in your overnight bag for the hospital. Just do it. Nothing sucks more than trying to learn to nurse on those awful hospital pillows. This thing will make your life infinitely better. I promise. And if you want more nursing boob advice, I’ve got it. Nursing is no joke, the adjustment period can be formidable.
- Don’t stress out about it. It will happen however it happens. Learn about the process, but don’t try to predict the outcome or craft your ultimate birth experience. You will probably remember very little of it. To me anyway, it was a tiny blip on the massive radar screen that is new parenthood. And my blip lasted 36 freaking hours long. But do you know what’s worse than 36 hours of labor? The tandem stomach flu the three of us got last fall. Way worse. In spite of the hairiness of my labor, I still felt super powerful at the end, and glad I hadn’t tried to script it in any way. Kid healthy+ me healthy = Good. Basta.
- Get as much help as you can for the first few (and I mean six) weeks. Call in all your favors, save your pennies. Grandparents, friends, night nurses, post-partum doulas, whatev. It was super overwhelming at first for us, and we had a lot of help.
- If you’re feeling freaked out, talk to someone who you know will be supportive and non-judgmental. I don’t know how I got the idea that I would be a perfect, balanced, competent parent but I was WROOOOOONG. It was exhilarating, terrifying, blissful, and painful, sometimes all at once. I went back to therapy two weeks after having Lillian. I have other friends who joined new parent support groups that really helped. You feel like everyone has done this, why is it so hard? Because it’s hard for everyone. If it’s not they’re catatonic or lying.
- Stuff. Most stuff you need for the baby can be borrowed. Other than a crib, nothing you use in the first six months to a year will be in the rotation for very long. Bassinet – incredibly useful for the first three months. Dust catcher after that. Swing – dude, you need a swing. But only for about six months. Bouncy chair things – the only way I could take a shower for six months was to strap Lillian into one of these things. Then she started crawling and it was done. So either buy them at a resale store and sell them back, or borrow them from a friend who is between kids. The only things in our house that are semi-permanent and worth the investment are our IKEA crib (very cheap) and our BOB Stroller (very not).
- Books – just throw them the hell out. Once you get on the milestone train, it’s a long way down. Comparing your kid to the “average” kid in America (regardless of your actual lineage) may make your child seem like a giant/midget/freak of some kind and he or she is not. He or she is just your kid. It’s hard enough to tune into the blaring radio station of mother instinct without eating yourself alive with self-doubt. Bringing a bunch of “experts” into the mix who want to sell books does not help.
- Find a pediatrician you like and trust. My therapist pointed out at one point that I was avoiding taking Lillian in to have something checked out because I was afraid of her doctor. Doh. I switched doctors. Much better.
- Stay away from the interwebs. I’m not saying that a little research can’t be useful when you want to check something out, but stay away from Dr. Internets in the middle of the night when you’re feeling sure that your kid’s 101 fever is actually spinal meningitis, mkay?
- Advice. Random strangers, well-meaning relatives, innocent bloggers (ahem) will tell you all sorts of crazy shit about the validity of your parenting, the health and well-being of your kid, and other stuff it would never cross your mind to say to another human being. Ignore them. “But they mean well…” No, they don’t. If it makes you feel bad, it’s not useful. It is so hard to feel confident about this terrifying, epic, massive job of creating and raising a little human being. Just don’t let people fuck with you.
- Be flexible. Your kid is totally unique and so are you. We made mistakes in the beginning by expecting Lillian to follow “typical” patterns that blinded us to her actual needs. I think everyone does this at first. But your kid will communicate what she needs, and you have to be listening to figure out how to respond. And then her needs will change, and you’ll have to respond differently. Forever. Don’t get so attached to a school of thought that you stop observing and responding to your kid.
Wow, that was fun!
Lillian turned a year old a few weeks ago. I have been seriously slow in getting this post written. To be fair, I was teaching my first class, grading a truckload of papers, throwing a rather large party, and hosting my parents. Then I fell over and died.
It was actually pretty fun, though exhausting. Did I mention I love teaching? I really, really love teaching. I’m pretty much focusing everything right now on trying to find more teaching gigs, though it may take a while. I’m also looking at starting a PhD. For realz.
Back to the baby stuff.
The party was a big success and Lillian looooooved the extended attention from her maternal grandparents. Lucky for me, she didn’t start walking till a couple weeks later, so she was more easily contained during the madness. Here are some adorable pictures:
Trying her new rocking elephant with Grandma Nancy
Tiffany made amazing coconut cupcakes with mango filling. David and his friend Chris made excellent fajitas. The babies made a mess. A good time was had by all. You can see lots more pictures here.
The last month has been baby-birthdaypalooza. All the babies in our playgroup are turning one and having parties. This weekend we have two! That first birthday party is a crazy gauntlet! It’s not like the babies will remember it, but I personally felt like I needed to get in touch with all the people who thought I’d fallen off the earth in the last year. Next year her party will probably be more about Lillian and less about us. All the parties have been different, but fun. We’ve eaten a lot of cupcakes. It’s been cool hanging with all the parents and babies and realizing we’ve all made it through the first year more or less intact.
Since then Lillian has started walking, which is crazy. She is so coordinated, and so very mobile. She has also decided that high chairs are for punks, so my days of long lunches with friends seem to be over. She has also decided that nursing is boring and stupid and she likes her straw cup full of whole milk way more. She’s not totally weaned, but we’re getting close. It’s all happening a little fast for me! Slow down, kid.
Lots has happened since the last time I wrote. I got really depressed. I got a job. I got less depressed. I started the job. I’m now stressed and busy, but relatively happy.
The holidays kind of sucked. I don’t really know why, I just got into a well of bummed-outness and couldn’t claw my way back out. At the worst point, shortly before Christmas, I got offered a job as an adjunct college professor. My confidence was at an all-time low but I couldn’t turn it down – I’ve been wanting to teach for a long time.
So now I’m a part-time professor and still mostly full-time mom. I have a babysitter three mornings a week who ROCKS and lets me get at least some of my work done during the day. Being a professor is kind of like being a mom, too. Yes, you have to punctuate. No, you can’t copy things off the internet and pass them off as your own work. Yes, you have to turn your homework in on time. Bitching aside, I really like it. It’s hard, hard work, but really fun. And vastly rewarding when I see a student make a connection and improve their understanding or skills.
I felt like I had been losing some core part of myself, and my emotional equilibrium with it, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of going back to schmoozing and networking to build up my business again. It seemed sooooo trivial. So the Universe did me right by dropping this job in my lap. It feels like meaningful, important work. Plus it’s nice to have a little income. I’m hoping to eventually teach two classes a semester.
Miss Lillian seems to be making more connections every day. She is much more aware of my moods now – for better or worse – and is full of her own expressions of emotions. She imitates sounds, claps like it’s going out of style, and flirts like crazy.
I can’t believe she’s going to be a year old in a couple of weeks. It’s crazy. This time last year I was big as a whale, not sleeping (how things don’t change), and having a hard time doing things like walking and writing. And living on Tums. The only thing I miss is going to yoga four times a week. And naps. Long, long, multiple naps per day. I miss them. I looked like this:
Did I mention I’m 30lbs lighter than I was then? Yeah. I don’t miss being huge and having somebody kicking my ass from the inside any more. Babies: better out than in!