Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hate and Fear and Death and Anger

With all the hate and fear and death and anger in the world right now, I am finding it hard to breathe lightly. Deep in my gut I feel sickened and exhausted and helpless. The American political climate is volatile, at its eruption point. Fear is being shoveled down our throats, and animosity is poisoning our veins. People are being shot by police, and police are being shot in return. Racism is killing black people, and white people are fighting over who's fault that is. Transgender people are being harassed over bathrooms. Whole religions are taking the blame for the acts of a belligerent few. Personal freedoms of who to love or who to worship are being yanked from some to assuage others. From Baltimore to San Bernardino to Baton Rouge to Falcon Heights to Nice to Munich to Orlando to Dallas, people are being murdered on the regular, sometimes en masse and each time unprovoked.

I believe in optimism. I believe in goodness, and I believe in love. But the hurricane of hate and fear and death and anger twisting all around me is suffocating.  How can I possibly see an American future where racism is obliterated from the bottom to the top, and from the top to the bottom, when half the country still refuses to see it exists? How can I believe that love will conquer hate when hate has become so palatable and carefree that it is openly preached from podiums and pulpits? How can I teach my children to be the change they want to see in the world when the world doesn't want to be changed or even see a need for it?

I recognize that I am a middle-class, married-to-a-man white woman. I cannot pretend to understand the daily concerns and experiences of black people, Muslims, gay and transgender people, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers or police officers. As an atheist and a woman, I can relate to certain levels of the discrimination but nothing comparable to those who are being threatened with banishment and deportation, who wake up wondering if they will be attacked in a bathroom today, who say "I love you" every time they leave the house in case it is the last time. I cannot relate to that enough to insist "I know what it's like". I don't.

I may not personally experience the hate and fear and anger and death meted upon so many of my fellow mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, but I see it. Not all of it, but I catch glimpses and glimmers. And they knock the breath out of me. Too often I am a silent observer. I am an observer who does not want to be silent but does not have the words or the platform to say anything or make a difference. I open my mouth to speak, but my own personal fear, my own survival instincts, catch the words in my throat and choke them out. My guilt and ignorance hold my frustration with the world's injustice against me, accusing me of being a part of the problem, and I am rendered silent again. Then I'm reminded that silence is a privilege, and I am hurled back into frustration.

I believe there is good in the world, and I believe in being the change I want to see in the world, but truth be told, both of these beliefs are ephemeral. They are American apple pies in the sky. They are nebulous puffy clouds that shade me from the glaring reality that I do not actually know if there really is good in the world, and I do not believe I can change anything.

This weekend I finished reading two books I've been working on for months. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay is a wonderful book, mixing humor and critical thought into multiple essays surrounding topics of oppression and inequality for women, for people of color, for people who are not thin, for anyone who does not fit the perfect standards American society holds us to. While I was able to laugh during some chapters, I had to pause and remember to breathe during others. I had to look square in the eye many truths about my perceptions as a white woman that I had not realized needed challenging. I was reminded that the inequality I face as a woman can be frustrating but not as frustrating as the challenges for women who heap inequality upon inequality. Inequality is not binary. The more disadvantages bestowed upon a person for his or her gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, hometown, education level - the list goes on - the more discrimination a person is bound to suffer. Sexism isn't experienced by me the same way it is experienced by a black woman or a lesbian woman or a black lesbian woman. The book opened my eyes to the sexism experienced by all types of women, not just women who look like me. I too am a bad feminist.

I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I started this book back in February but only finished it today, because it was the hardest book I have ever read. Reading it was like loading concrete blocks onto my chest, one page after another. It is one thing to "know" that black parents have to teach their black sons and daughters how to behave extra good during certain encounters; it is an entirely different thing to read the intensely honest and intimate letter written by a father to his son about the struggle to preserve the black body from destruction. No other book I've read that openly or begrudgingly let me observe a black experience, not Disgruntled or God Help the Child or Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, though each of those affected me in profound ways, changed me the way this one did. The hate and anger and death and fear twisting all around us are real dangers to our brothers and sisters of color. Yet we continue to tell them they are either imagining things or they need to sort themselves out by themselves, as if we as a country and a history and a society never did a thing to cause this peril to their bodies.

I am crushed under the inevitability of all the hate and anger and death and fear in our world. It feels like change is not going to come. I do not know what to do about it or how to help. I cannot change the minds of those around me who refuse to see the problems. I am such a small, insignificant fish in a fathomless ocean.

I want to believe in optimism, goodness and love. I want to believe that I can be the change. I want to believe in the story of the starfish, that it matters to walk along the shore and throw starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. I need to believe that the small tangible things I do might matter in the long run - the donations to charities, the volunteer hours, the lessons taught to my children. So small though. Too small.

I also want to know more. I want to be educated in areas I know little or nothing about. I want to read books that tell me truths it hurts to hear.  I want to be challenged and humbled and pushed into action. I want to understand. I don't want to be silent, but I do want to listen. I want to implore others to listen. I want all of us to close our mouths, open our eyes and lean in close to hear what our Muslim neighbors, our gay and transgender neighbors, our black, Hispanic and Native American neighbors, our uniformed neighbors have to say about their experiences and believe them. No "but what about"s or "but I"s or "but you"s.

I want all this hate and death and anger and fear to stop. I know I cannot stop it. I know I cannot escape it. I cannot simply turn off the radio, shut down Facebook, walk away from conversations, and slip under my covers just to make myself more comfortable again. If my fellow mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters do not get the luxury of switching off the TV to find comfort, I will not exercise my ability to do so. I will never fully understand what it feels like to be the target of all this hate and fear and death and anger, but I will continue to face these every day with them. I will continue to immerse myself as much as I can into their worlds through books and relationships and news stories and causes. I will listen when I ought to listen and try to speak when I ought to speak. I will push myself to continue believing in goodness and love, for my children and for my world, however small my influence on it may be. I cannot, I must not let the hate and fear and death and anger win.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Letters to My Past Self - Part 2

In 2013, I wrote letters to my past self, giving myself the advice I wish I'd been able to give myself when I was 16, 18, 20 (but certainly would have ignored). Mostly it was regarding boys, though some pertained to studying harder and making better financial choices . (Was getting a nose ring and losing your college tuition money from Mom and Dad worth it?) (Yes, kind of.)

I have some more things I'd like to tell past me.

Dear Lori (24),

Don't let anyone tell you to put that baby down more or stop being so obsessive over organic homemade baby food or that using cloth nappies is a waste of your time. This is your time to figure out motherhood on your own, and even though two babies later you will find that putting that baby down more will make life easier and that your baby will still be healthy and thrive if you feed her baby food from a jar* and that cloth nappies are fantastic for the environment and your wallet but holy hell they are a lot of smelly work and it's okay to sometimes reach for the disposable, right now you do exactly what you feel is right and be proud of each decision you make. I stand behind you and all first time mums in all your idealistic and ambitious plans. I'm proud of you.

Lori (34, mother of three)
*That is, when you don't have time to do baby led weaning, of course. I know you'd hate it if I didn't make that distinction.


Dear Lori (29),

Speaking of ambition, let's get one thing straight. You never stopped being ambitious. You never lost yourself. Your brain never turned to mush. You must not keep thinking this about yourself.

You left college with a fantastic job for a recent grad, and at the ripe young age of 22 you went through the entire process of immigration all on your own. You moved abroad. You managed to blag your way into another great job in a field you had no experience in. You kicked serious ass at that job (though your work ethic could probably have been a little better).  You were ambitious, and you knew it.

Then you got pregnant and decided with Scott to become a stay at home mum. And that's where your confidence began to shake.

You stayed out of the traditional workforce for nine years. You believed you had nothing to offer the world other than being a good mum. You believed you were only marginally smart. You stopped believing in yourself. You looked at your friends and saw them as successful, while viewing yourself as barely contributing to society.


Girl, let's look at it from my perspective now.

You left the traditional workforce to become the most kick ass mother you could possibly be. You researched every single mothering topic known to womankind. You made conscientious decisions about everything. You did things very differently from what was expected of you, but you did it with confidence, because you were informed and ambitious about mothering.

You were AMBITIOUS about mothering. If you were going to be a stay at home mum, you were going to be the best damn stay at home mum you could be. Ambition isn't just for the workplace. (Shout out to all the ambitious stay at home mums out there. I know for a fact how hard y'all work your asses off.)

Here's something else you may not be realizing.  You weren't just a stay at home mum. You were an entrepreneur, a fundraiser and an active volunteer in your community.

You started four businesses while you were "just a mum". One was successful enough to make a living off of (Wee Honey Bee Childminding), one was as successful as you intended it to be (IntoBento), one scraped by but at least kept breaking even and gave you a lot of joy (TinyTalk), and the one that didn't work (Lori Borealis), you had the sense to drop early.  Ambitious! 

You trained as a breastfeeding peer helper with a national breastfeeding charity. You and your fellow peer helpers started your own local charity and did some really awesome things, including designing a campaign that the NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde still uses. You girls started a texting support service for breastfeeding mothers. You had annual general meetings, because you were a real non-profit. You got real speakers in to talk at your AGMs, because you were a real non-profit. You had a non-profit status bank account, because you were a real non-profit. Stop minimizing what you're doing. You and your friends were AMAZING and AMBITIOUS. Mummy brain? Not you ladies. So stop putting yourself down and thinking what you are doing is "nothing special".  Stop thinking you aren't really contributing much to society other than being a pretty good mum. I'd like to retroactively send all of you women a medal of honor. (Honour, rather.)

Um, also, don't forget you wrote and published a book?

Basically, what I'm saying is, stop putting yourself down and thinking you've "lost yourself" and you have "no ambition" and you "aren't smart".  You have always been ambitious in everything you've ever done.  Your priorities changed (and rightly so), but your drive didn't.

And I only JUST realized this very recently myself, so no fault to you for not seeing it whilst in the thick of it.

Lori (34 and still ambitious)


Dear Lori (31),

Your life is about to change in every way. I think you know this. I mean, obviously you know you are leaving your home in Scotland to go back to your home in Arkansas. That's going to change your life drastically. (And I should really go ahead and prep you for this - you won't be moving to Fayetteville when you get there. Scott's going to find a job in Little Rock in a matter of weeks, and you're going to live in Nowheresville for two years. I think it's best I just tell you this now.)  But things are about to change so much more.  Who you are, who you've always seen yourself as, is about to do a complete 180.  You sense this, but you aren't ready to accept it.

You're about to lose your faith.

It's going to destroy you.

I'm not gonna lie about that.

But I swear to you, it's only temporary. That darkness you feel right now is only temporary. I know there's nothing I can say to lighten the load you carry on your shoulders right now. I know there's nothing that can soften the blows you feel every time you pray and hear nothing from God.  I know those tears are going to fall and that they have to fall. Like a mother watching her child go through her first heart break, I feel powerless for you, knowing that things are going to get better but that you can't see that right now. I know this is something you have to go through to get to the other side, but it hurts me to see it and remember it for you.  So I guess all I can say is do everything you can to keep your faith alive. Pray with all your strength. Speak to anyone you trust about this. Write about it, talk about it, paint about it, run and exercise about it.  Because you need to know later that you did everything you could to hold onto that faith, and if God couldn't do the rest, well then, that's that.

The pain of silence and abandonment will pass, and when they do, you will find joy again. Joy unspeakable. Joy in the world as it is, not as it's written to be. You will find strength in yourself you never knew you had even though it was yours all along. You will find love and trust and freedom in ways you never believed could be found in a life without a god. 

But for now, there's no sense in telling you this, because there is no way you can believe it. So just keep doing what you're doing, because you're doing everything right.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Your whole life has been one as a caterpillar, and now you are being torn apart and squished and reshaped and it hurts so incredibly bad. But just wait.

Lori (34 and you would never believe what I call myself now...)


Dear Lori (32),

Don't be too bummed about the Scottish referendum.  In a couple of years, there will be this thing called "Brexit"...

Lori (34 with a Scotland tattoo)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Juggling vs Balancing

Tomorrow is my one year workiversary.

This day last year, as I prepared freezer meals and ironed my clothes for my first day at work, I asked some pressing questions about outside-the-home working mums and how they managed all the tasks still required to keep a home running smoothly. Being the perfectionist I am, I needed to know how they could leave the circus but still keep all the juggling balls in the air. After one full year of gainful, outside-the-home employment, I can finally answer those questions.

They can't.

Or maybe "they" can, but I can't. Or maybe I could, but I haven't figured out how yet.

Who takes the car in for oil changes? How do you keep up with the laundry? How does dinner get made every night after you've been working all day?

No one. You can't. It doesn't.

Those are the answers I've discovered anyway. Supermoms out there, please beg to differ. Then give me all your tips. Then give me your housekeeper's and nanny's phone numbers, because I don't believe you.

This is the great, ground-breaking wisdom I have discovered after a year.  Wait for it - this is going to blow your mind:

Some things - a lot of things - have to be let go.

*Cue Elsa in a blue dress making an ice castle*

I hate it, but I'm accepting it. My left-side brain, my obsessive nature, my perfectionist tendencies torment me constantly about the lack of organization in my home, but this is reality. One of our kids is still small. The other two are getting old enough to reliably help me and Scott out. Anyway, it's only for a short time, really. People may judge our yard for its tall weeds and our couch for its pile of (clean) laundry and our floors for the Cheerios stuck to it, but this is life right now. It's not forever, but it is what it is right now.

Sure I could expend energy keeping the house spic-n-span every night, and Scott could expend energy mowing the grass and cooking dinner.  Or... I could keep myself sane by taking an hour to go the gym while Scott takes an hour on Reddit. We could come straight home from work every single night and cook and clean until bedtime, or we could order a pizza every now and then and play with the kids.What's most important right now?

After a year, I'd say that I've settled into my new routine pretty okay. It's not perfect, it's not what I know it could be or exactly how I want it to be, but I'm accepting it for what it is. I know eventually I'll get there (or hire a housekeeper), so for now I'm learning to balance. Balance - isn't that my theme for this year? Balancing instead of juggling all the balls I hold in my hands. And balancing sometimes requires setting a few things down for a few minutes to steady yourself.

Maybe some day in the future I'll reach the perfection I long for, but for now, I'm okay with life being a little messy and a lot imperfect. Or at least, I'm learning to accept it being that way.