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Archive for the ‘On Being Mama’ Category

Turns out, I miss this place. I went on for many months quite happily without the computer. Working on my farm projects. Summer was banner this year, and my plate was manically full. But somewhere around July, I started to itch for writing. A place and a way to express my thoughts, to communicate all the stuff that crowds my head. Ears who care to listen.

Now, don’t go creaming yer panties, I’m not coming back here on a regular basis. But, maybe just a quickie now and then, in the laundry room.

Besides, I have some important addendums to the inherent subject matter of Apron Stringz. My life as a ‘mama who likes to get shit done’ continues to evolve, and it seems wrong to leave off when new discoveries are being made.

Not that I have come to any conclusions. As usual the farther I get into it, the more confusled I become. Certainly nothing has become clear to me, in my absence from blogging. I have not come back to share brilliant epiphanies. But that’s why you love me right? For laying bare the absolute bewilderment of life and loving?

I do have one particular thing to say, the thing that has made me come back, an admission.

For the record– it didn’t work.

This whole ‘yielding to motherhood and the inglorious work of housewifery’ thing, it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it worked for a while, gave me some peace when I needed it most. Allowed me to survive a period of intensity that otherwise might have destroyed me. I still recommend it, wholeheartedly. If you can manage it, submitting to the humble task of motherhood is a strangely liberating experience.

I just want to make sure you understand the further evolution of that story. Although I cultivated it successfully for a few years, as soon as the life-or-death necessity for submission had worn off, I abandoned it like a leaky rubber boot. I went straight back to my old ways– taking on way too much for someone with small children, trying to do it all, wanting it all with an almost debilitating lust, then beating myself up for failing on all accounts.

Part of that is just summer in Alaska. It all happens so fast. It’s winter and winter and winter, and then all of a sudden– BAM. It’s summer and it’s going to be over before you can finish even half the projects on your list, so hurry the fuck up!

But I can’t just blame summer. There’s more to the story.

Six years ago now, we had our first baby. I slowly and painfully began to set aside my own projects and passions for the all-encompassing work of motherhood. Two years into it, we moved to New Orleans, My Man went to law school, and we had our second baby. Enter the Submission Phase, blah, blah, blah. I gave up on accomplishing anything of consequence, outside of raising up two beautiful new souls. I didn’t submit easily, in fact it was emotionally akin to amputating both legs. But I did it– I put my own, separate, non-mama path on hold for a few years. I relegated my passions and what I consider my real work to ‘charming hobby’ status.

Then My Man finished school. Moving back to Alaska was something of an anti-climax because even though I was back in my own home turf, surrounded by my previous years’ work on our little property, My Man was studying harder than ever for the Bar. Time and energy were still too tight for me to take back up those passions in any meaningful capacity. So, I squelched them back down and screwed the lid on once again.

Our little backyard homestead lay in a state of dormancy, fertile soil covered in a dense blanket of weeds. It would have to wait.

My mind lay similarly neglected. After years of fighting for each little scrap, I had acquired a resident apathy. I could hardly remember what I might care to do with myself, should I ever have time to do anything in. As someone who had been vehemently motivated to do cool stuff, before I had kids, the apathy was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

But, here we were– back home in my chosen context, with all the things I claimed to care about around me. And that is when my greatest fear of all surfaced. What if I had just changed? What if I didn’t care about homesteading and wilderness and harvesting anymore? What then? What would I care about if not that?

This is the identity crisis which I alluded to in my few posts last summer, but never had the guts to write about. I was terrified. I had built my entire life around this homesteader dream, the possibility of it’s loss was haunting.

Our girl started kindergarten that fall. Suddenly I had just one kid again, for half of every day. The desperation of mothering two littles began to ease. I had finally settled back into Alaska. My Man passed the Bar, and started working. At long last, the 3YO began to sleep through the night and into the morning, allowing me a good night’s sleep and an hour or two of quiet solitude at the beginning of each day. I took a deep, wonderful breath.

My mind opened tentatively into that extra space, like a hermit crab poking out of it’s shell. Is it safe? Is there really room for me again?

It was at that moment in time, serendipitously, that I discovered permaculture. I was ripe and ready, it was exactly what I needed. Knowledge! Learning! Permaculture was the next step to everything I had done before I had kids– an advanced course in gardening and homesteading. I was consumed, like a hot, teenage crush. It was so exciting to be excited again. Even now, when I hear the intro song to Thomas the Train (which allowed me many an hour to sit around learning) I feel a wave of giddy joy.

And that is when I realized that I had not changed at all. I had not lost my love for all things which grow from the soil, and a life which relates to wild nature. Rather, my lust for learning had just been squashed by too many loads of laundry, I had had too many attempts to try something new crushed into the ground by a screaming toddler. I had given up.

I had tried for graceful submission, but in the end had settled into apathetic resignation. Not towards my life as a whole, but certainly towards my personal passions and ambitions.

I still believe that graceful submission would be a beautiful thing. I did hit it for small moments, and they were good and sweet. I don’t begrudge the resignation either, it is acceptable to me on a short term basis. It served me well when I needed it.

I was so thrilled to find my own spark still alive, so relieved that it was (conveniently) still flaring in the same general direction, that I hardly cared whether it had been submission or resignation or what. I flung my painstakingly acquired good mom habits out the window and set right into ignoring my kids in the name of backyard homesteading.

I weeded out three years’ worth of creeping buttercups and planted all my old garden beds. I started teaching classes, something I had always wanted to, in bread making, gardening and wild plants. I butchered, packaged and froze two black bears given me by a local guide. I started making herbal medicine. I picked gallons of wild blueberries. But, most significantly, before summer had even begun, I ordered fifty chicks and ducklings thereby turning my nice little gardens into a full fledged small farm.

I ordered the birds while there was still snow on the ground. I had spent the winter drawing up a totally awesome permaculture design for our property, and had convinced myself on paper that I could build an addition to my coop which would quadruple it’s size, before the chicks grew out of their brooder.

I had forgotten that I was in fact still a mama! You can throw the ole’ submission idea out the window, but the kids don’t seem to notice. Well, I’m sure they noticed something. Like the fact that I had stopped taking them to kid activities around town, stopped doing crafts with them, stopped reading stories in the middle of the day, and started a hell of a lot more yelling.

It wasn’t all bad. There were some absolutely amazing days, the kind of days I imagined motherhood would be– working outside building the coop, or digging in the garden; a little pack of kids ranging around between our yard and our neighbors, happily playing in the sunshine with sticks. Brilliant days, which I did have the good sense to stop and appreciate, recognizing these moments as the best of the best, what I had always hoped my life would be like.

I don’t regret my regression back into project-land. Mamas busy with projects are a good thing. But there’s busy and then there’s too busy. I do regret ordering fifty birds. What the fuck was I thinking? I could have simply doubled my flock, like a normal person, just dabbled in raising meat birds; but no, I needed to quintuple my flock so that I could put a year’s worth of birds in the freezer, and still have several different laying breeds left to trial.

The stress of all those animals under my care, inadequately housed (barely better off than factory farmed birds for a while there) gave me actual belly cramps during the month of June. I just couldn’t build fast enough. It seemed like I managed to nail up about two boards/day.

At any rate, here I am now, at the end of it. A nice big pack of roasters in my freezer, and a beautiful flock of laying hens and ducks. I am learning new things, evolving my homesteading skills, moving forward on my path again.

Occasionally I miss those days when I just let taking the kids on an outing, doing laundry and making dinner be enough. I am still often jealous of the mamas who can sustain that kind of devotion. But I am not that mama. For me, submission was a temporary helpmate.

And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.

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Despite my absence here for the last month and a half, I have not been master goddess of my domestic realm. I am always surprised when I take a break from blogging, I mean you’d think that the extra 1-2 hours per day would get me something. And of course it does, it gets me a slower pace of life, a calm that I do appreciate when I can manage to acknowledge it. But it does not get me a cleaner house or happier children. At this very moment (and most others) the kitchen is a mess, the table is stacked with four loads of clean laundry waiting to be put away, the floors are disgusting, and I have no idea what I’m cooking for dinner. I feel that depthless falling feeling lately. The list, by which I mean The List, is miles long and filled with projects like “replace linoleum in the kitchen,” “put up the year’s worth of salmon,” “rebuild collapsed woodshed roof,” and subsequently “cut and stack five cords of firewood for the winter.”

And I can’t even get the fucking laundry put away.

The disappointment of times like this always starts me to grasping for a cure, and lately my obsession has been the Waldorf concept of Rhythm. The idea is that a flexible but regular schedule is essential for children; that knowing, generally, how their days will unfold gives them a sense of peace and stability.

Duh.

One of the things I hate about parenting dogmas is how impervious they are to differences in personality. Although I think a predictable schedule is generally agreed to be good for kids, I suspect there are kids who will never adapt to a schedule and furthermore don’t need to, as well as kids who’s lives could be turned around by a strong rhythm. Those are the kids who thrive on Waldorf, and “prove” the success of the ideology.

What I am realizing lately is that I was one of those kids, who’s need for a predictable, peaceful and quiet daily routine was never satisfied as a child. And as happens in a developing brain when a need is unmet, I am consequently malformed.

I have always had a near obsession with routine and yet an inability to actually execute it to any satisfying degree. I need it because I didn’t get it as a child, but I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t get it as a child. My journals are always studded with multiple attempts to corral the chaos of my days. Literally,

“Summer Schedule
6:00 wake up, coffee
7:00 breakfast
7:30 walk
9:00 outside chores”
etc, etc.

I write it all out, earnestly believing every time that the mere act of writing will create the calm rhythm and self disciplined schedule I crave. Later I am convinced that it hasn’t worked because I just haven’t gotten it right, haven’t divined the Perfect Schedule. Inviting yet another attempt.

That’s me– forever believing that there is a formula for perfection. Not universal, but personal to me. If only I could figure it out.

Having kids of my own I have only stepped up this madness. Desperate for a handle on life, I feel sure that I am just missing something. If I could just get the kids to eat right, they wouldn’t have these stubborn screaming fits. If I could just get the house clean and stay on top of it, we would all feel so much more calm and relaxed. If the 2yo would just consistently sleep enough at night. If I got the kids enough exercise and peer play every day. If… If….

And then the kingpin– If only I could get us on a schedule, then I would (magically) have time to fit all this in to every single day.

Then, then! Life would be all soft watercolors and silk scarves. Hallelujah.

Looking around online for Waldorf rhythm is excessively discouraging. The blogshine that I always rail against is rampant in the Waldorf crowd. One that I read this morning went on for an entire post about their morning ritual of waking softly, lighting candles and singing morning songs and how sweet and perfect it all was. Well, perfect pink wool felting mothers of the world, damn you if you’re lying, and damn you more if you’re not.

I started this post weeks ago, in the midst of an obsession. Now as I come back to finish what seems worth finishing, I am trying to divine the lesson. Did I learn something? I do in fact feel like in the last few weeks I created some kind of order in my universe– the house is clean, the laundry is caught up, the kids are happy. But as usual, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if I created that order and peace, or if it created itself.

Do I follow a pattern of sinking to the bottom and then pulling myself up by the bootstraps? Or does life follow a pattern of chaos and hard times, which lead inevitably to a relative peace and better times? Or is it (more likely) both? Do we feed off of each other, me and life, and oh– don’t forget the kids, in their own two separate cycles.

Waldorf appeals to my depressed self because it is based on the premise that if you do everything “right” (and they’ll tell you how) your life and your children will be sweet and quiet. It taps directly into my innate compulsion to believe that there is a Perfect Way, I just have to figure out what it is. It feeds heavily on my propensity for mama-guilt, because if my life is not so perfectly sweet and quiet, it is my own fault. I have failed myself and my family.

Like any religion, it takes a human being in their weakened state of sad, disappointed confusion, and props them up on the idea that there is a prescribed way out. Just follow the master plan, and it will all be taken care of. The idea that there is in fact an underlying order, a secret to life, is so incredibly seductive to us. We want so desperately to believe, to be Believers.

For whatever cosmic reason, me and the kids were at a real low. I was desperate, I was vulnerable. I delved into the ‘rhythm as panacea’ concept, even started doing a Waldorf circle time with the kids every afternoon. I summoned my will and attempted to implement a stronger routine than what we already had. I checked out Over the Rainbow Bridge from the library. I berated myself appropriately over their movie watching, the overflow of plastic toys and my own yelling mad self. (This last one works wonders– beat yourself up about being a mean mom. Just see how sweet it makes you. Wow. It was from this place of yelling at myself for yelling at the kids that I told them I wanted to chain them up so I could just please fucking carry the fucking groceries the two blocks up the fucking hill to our house.)

The problem, for me at least, is that feeding the belief in achievable order interferes with the work I really need to be doing. Accepting the chaos.

Submitting.

Shit, there it is again. Not submitting to motherhood this time. But submitting to life. The universe. Everything. The greater-than-me. The things I can never know, and never understand. The mystery. Submitting to the fact that I am not ruler of this world, or even my world. There is no plan so perfect that it will tame my wild children. Thank god! My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects. My kids are LOUD because they are full of piss and vinegar, they run around the house breaking shit because they are full of nearly explosive curiosity for how the world works.

We are movers and shakers, a whole fam damily of them. Our life together is bound to be complex.

I’m not altogether done with the rhythm concept, or Waldorf in general. Of course, just because they have not created The Master Plan doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable takeaway. Just because a solid rhythm would not singlehandedly create peace on earth, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help create a bit more peace in our own household. Or at the very least, in my own brain.

As usual, I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch, and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down. I guess my real work in this life is to just be without need to label, to search without need to find, to try without need to master, to take what comes as it comes. Chaos, order, chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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***While I am packing up our house like a woman possessed, getting our family ready to move across the continent, several generous readers have volunteered to keep you musing. This first guest post is written by Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy. Jasmine in an Alaskan off-grid homesteader (ironically, I do not know her from Alaska but solely from this virtual space). She also writes at her own blog, Bunchberry Farms.***

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You may think I’m crazy when I say this, but its true.  I have been actively talking myself out of having children for a decade.  How old am I, you ask?  I’m twenty six.

Why have I been dissuading myself from ushering new souls into the world for so long?  Because I want them SO DAMN BAD.

I actually give my younger self a lot of kudos for being so responsible.  As a highschooler, while I personally wasn’t sexually active until late in highschool, I had pro-condom bumperstickers on the back of my truck and in my bedroom.  I talked my friends through the process of getting on birth control.  I was decided that if I should ever need to, I would get an abortion rather than become a teenage mom.  And all the while I desperately desired kids.  I would fight the undertow of the longing.  I would find myself insanely jealous of the young single struggling under-advantaged moms that I worked with at my minimum wage part time waitressing gigs.  And periodically I would have to sit down with myself and have a good long chat about what the reality of kids would mean, about how having an underage mom wouldn’t be doing them any favors, and about how I wanted to be able to choose them at a time their nurturance would be my primary endeavor.

I played gypsy for a year, and then I went to college.  And for five years I indulged in academia and theatre.  I knew I didn’t have the time or energy for kids.  I knew that the time would come for being a mom, that that time was not the (then) present.  But I longed.  Oh, how I longed.  And I dreamed.  Oh, how I dreamed.  The dream of the homestead and the dream of the motherhood came to rival each other in depth and intensity.  They became entwined to the point of identity.  My mantra-goal became “Get the land” because once I had the land, the homestead and the kids could and would come.  I plotted and planned and despaired and hoped and leveraged will power and luck and fate and love to get the homestead.  Meanwhile I would read the parenting magazines at the Laundromat, hide “Fit Pregnancy” (the prenatal yoga issues) and “Natural Parenting” magazines in the wait-station at the restaurant, read the latest “Mothering Magazine” and “Midwifery Today” every time I visited my mom.  I would hide in the magazine section at the grocery store and read “Good Housekeeping” and “Real Simple,” skimming past article with potential relevance to where I was at, and instead focusing on the ones that talked about homework and kids organizational strategies, about family dinner plans and how to pack a school lunch.  I rarely babysat because I was always in rehearsal or on stage or waitressing.  I was engaging in the act of living the life-stage I was in while desperately and nearly obsessively longing for and planning the future.  I have always been the queen of ten year plans.  I am not entirely sure it is the healthiest way to live, expending so much energy and thought and time on a future that you are at the same time ensuring is distant from where you are.

Sometime in college I met my Darlin’ Man.  And as soon as we met, certainly as soon as we became serious, I realized that there was no way I could or would ever get the abortion I had always planned on if we accidentally conceived.  This realization scared the shit out me.  I mean, I thrive on planning the future.  The reality of children was always, always something that I knew I would invite into my life when the time was right.  I wished for them NOW, but I knew this.  When I was maybe 3, maybe 4 years old my little sister was a baby.  I have this vivid memory of sitting in my kid-sized rocking chair (the one that is in the attic space at my mother’s house waiting for the next generation along with boxes and boxes of kids books and toys that I’ve been saving all of my life), in the middle of the afternoon, and singing lullabies to my doll.  For hours.  We had this tape of lullabies, English on one side, French on the other – Lullaby Bersuese – and I distinctly remember one specific afternoon repeating and re-listening to the French side at least two if not three times.  Singing along and rocking my doll straight through from afternoon to dusk.  I wanted to memorize it so that when I was a mom I could sing it to my kids without the tape.  Ever since then, I have known, bone deep, that motherhood was something that belonged in my life, that it was something I would choose for myself.  Accordingly, it became the end-goal of every 10 year plan I ever made.  It was there and real and desperately wanted, but was always placed a decade or so away.  Placed out there in the future with a plan in place to ensure it stayed there.  So when I met my Darlin’ Man and realized that if we conceived I would keep the baby, it scared the shit out of me.  It took the concept of motherhood out this plane of planned activity at the perfect time – a place I had put it, and kept it, so that I would not be prematurely tempted – and (re)created it as a  thing that could happen by chance, something that could happen to me and I would do nothing to stop it.  I mean, no kind of birth control is fail-proof right?  And if the idea is that you manifest in your life that which you focus on, kids are an immanent accidental possibility, right?  And that’s scary stuff.  But even while recognizing the absolute havoc that untimed and unplanned kids would have on my life, on our lives, even while rebelling against the mere concept of the active choice being taken away from me – in my deepest self of selves I rejoiced.  I rejoiced because suddenly, miraculously, my most deeply held desire was a possibility.  Because even a 1 in 10,000 chance is a possibility, right?  And if I hit that one in ten thousand jackpot, well,  I could hardly blame myself for accidentally becoming pregnant with my beloved’s child, right?   It wouldn’t be an ill-considered decision, but fate.

And I rejoiced because I knew that the choice of pregnancy and motherhood was really and truly finally within my grasp.  And that scared the shit out of me.  Because if it was something that I finally could choose for myself, why was I not?   If facing the reality of eminence of the mere possibility of kids brought me such joy and relief, why was I avoiding it?  What was I doing with myself?  If I was defining fulfillment as motherhood, and I was denying myself motherhood, then what sort of messed up mind game was I playing with myself?

So I did two things, I sat down with myself and gave myself the permission to savor this pre-kid life for what it is.  There are many things I love about it that I know I will nostalgically savour when my proverbial style is cramped by the minute to minute reality of littles. This life I’m living now is a step along the way but not merely a means to an end.  (Or so I tell myself when I’m not assuring myself that AS SOON as we get enough student loans paid off, I can then get pregnant.  If that’s not a means to an end, I don’t know what is.)    And I asked myself what motherhood really meant to me.  I found that while the essence of motherhood in my soul stands alone and can be applied to or fit within any life scenario I can imagine, my VISION of my future motherhood was pretty specific.  Once, in the early and turbulent portion of our relationship, my Darlin’Man asked me if I knew what my purpose in life was.  I don’t remember the words I chose – I think nurture was one.  But I remember being very careful of what words I used because I knew the answer as clear as day, and I knew that English lacked a single word for the amalgam of creation and nurturing and tending and supporting and healing and reverence that gardening and mothering and animal husbandry and making art and feeding people and giving them medicine and tending their wounds all have in common.  There is a common element, and it is profound and resides in my soul, but I don’t know that there is a word for it.  I thought about all of this and I realized that my vision of my own experience of motherhood was all entwined in my vision of homesteading.  Raising kids and goats and gardens was all one life action for me.  Which meant I better get the set up in place if I wanted to realize that vision.

So I shifted my future focus onto the homestead (and by this I mean I took all of that near-obsessive planning and applied it to small scale agriculture).  I got married.  My mom moved up here in anticipation of being grandma in the not too distant future.  Last summer we bought the homestead.  It needs a lot of work in creating it as a productive home scale agricultural venture.  It craves digging and building and fencing and lots of compost.  But every time I think about a fence line, or the placement of a coop, I think in terms of little hands on latches, little feet in the grass, buoyant laughter echoing, trees for solace of little hearts.  As I think about where the fruit trees and the barn ought to go in relation to a future barn, and maintaining the direct sun on the solar panels, I’m also thinking of swings and climbing trees.

I’m now on the two year plan for getting pregnant and every time I sit with myself and examine my prospective reality of motherhood, it still scares the shit out of me.  In a deep and challenging way, a way that has within it the distillation of the visions of bliss and golden glowing mama-ness.  A way that encapsulates the dreams and the bone deep blood deep voice that knows about children belonging in my life.  A way that is also aware (as aware as one can be without the experience) of the work and the drudgery and the self abnegation and the frustration.  The responsibility and the giving.

And if the prospective reality scares the shit out of me and I still want it with the intensity of a decade’s longing melting into tender humbleness; that must mean I’m getting closer and closer to actually being ready, right?  Are you ever ready?  Probably not.

And the closer my own motherhood draws, the more I find myself open to following the lead of this land, our (future) kids, this life we’re choosing.  The ten year plan has opened to allow me to glimpse possible vistas of twenty and fifty years down the road – it is less rigid and encompasses much more possibility for change.  Which means I might just make it though, right?

                              –Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy, Bunchberry Farms

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My Girl has always been fairly balanced, gender-wise. If I hadn’t had a second baby– a very boy boy whose first words were, respectively, ‘ball’ and ‘truck’– I would have smugly thought that kids just respond to the gender influences around them. My Girl liked fancy dresses and dolls, but no more than anything else. Her pretend play usually centered around some kind of animal family– walruses on an ice flow, baby birds hatching out of their egg. From the comfort of my own situation, I advised my dear friend with a princess-obsessed daughter to just roll with it, allow her daughter to experiment. So long as her real life was filled with strong female role models, she’d be fine in the end. I myself was a very girly little girl. I adored dresses with frills, lace, puffy sleeves and played with B*rbies for years, and look how I turned out. I laughed at my friend for hiding certain dolls and cutting the princess insignia off of gifted play dresses. Her daughter would be fine, she just needed to relax! I felt surprisingly at ease about the whole thing.

Until recently.

There was no pivotal moment, just a steady influx of pink, a steady movement toward all things ‘pretty.’ Now I am suffering the torture of feminists all over our angsty modern world. My daughter wants to be a princess.

There was a scene at the drugstore recently. I don’t often go there, but I needed to get cockroach poison (as the New Orleans summer has heated up, our kitchen has gotten entirely out of hand.) I decided to pre-promise the kids doughnuts, hoping it would make the experience smoother. When we walked in, and all the product hit our eyes at once, My Girl looked up at me and said, “Mama? Can I get something pretty?”

I explained that we only had so much money, but if she wanted to she could get a small something instead of a doughnut. Assuming there would be no contest, assuming doughnuts rule. “Okay!” She said brightly, and started browsing the pretty things. There followed a torturously long episode of me chasing the boy through the aisles and My Girl picking first one thing then another that were too expensive. My eyes seized on a big display of $1 finger nail polish. For some reason I have never had a problem with her using the stuff, it seems so entirely childish to me that I can’t believe grown women wear it without irony. I pointed to the display and suggested that she could get a bottle of sparkly pink fingernail polish.

I hadn’t thought to notice the other item on display.

“Mama! Can I get that stuff that makes your lips a color?” She asked breathlessly.

Oh my god. Lipstick? How did she even know what it was?

She had already had fingernail polish and a little box of eyeshadow that I got out of a give-away box which she applied like face paint. Why did I balk at lipstick? She’s just a little kid playing Fancy Lady, what’s the big deal?

I realized later that even though she probably has only ever seen her grandma apply the stuff, I associate lipstick with looking like a prostitute. I cannot separate lipstick from sex appeal in my mind, and I was suddenly downright terrified that already, at age four, my daughter felt the desire/expectation to look sexy.

So, I told her no. What else could I do? I felt like I had to fight for her life, for the preservation of her childhood.

But My Girl recognizes a fight from ten yards off, and she set in with her own army. She started to cry and wail in almost 2yo fit fashion, except much sadder. In fact, she was tragic. All attempts to distract her towards any other kind of ‘pretty’ item were useless. She said she wanted something she didn’t have already. It sounds silly now, just a little girl trying to get what she wanted. But my heart hurt for her. My head hurt too, I just wanted to get the hell out of there, but regardless any lipstick morality I don’t give in to crying fits. I was trapped.

I ended up telling her that because you put lipstick on your lips, you end up eating a little of it and that the kind at that store wasn’t safe for kids. This was in fact a small part of my hesitation. I could see no entrance point for a conversation about my real fear. As we left the store, finally, some silly unwanted barrets in hand, I had the sinking feeling that I had just made the desire for lipstick an indelible part of her emotional psyche.

Talking this through later with My Man, I came to terms with my over active fear of lipstick. Although I do believe it is undeniable that men find lipstick attractive because it makes the lips look wet and ready, the fact is that it is so normal to wear lipstick in our culture that it has become almost completely dissociated from the underlying sex appeal. In fact, when My Man and I tried to think of who even wears lipstick, the main image was of old ladies with absurdly pink lips and perpetually surprised eyebrows.

The next week, during a trip to Whole Foods, I detoured down the rarely attended cosmetics aisle and picked up a tube of all-natural mineral pigment lipstick. “Look!” I said, handing it to My Girl, “They have lipstick here that’s okay for kids!” I hoped that remembering this all on my own, to her surprise, would somehow redeem me.

Two days later, she lost that $6 tube of all natural red lipstick at a restaurant. She was only vaguely disappointed.

This lipstick event has certainly defined a shift for me, and doubtlessly for her as well. But the overall situation is much bigger. She talks about princesses more and more often, plays princess, picks out insufferable princess books at the library (Disn*y Princess Ballerina? Are you fucking kidding me? That was when I stooped to hiding things under the couch).

Although she has definitely begun to pick up on the subtle cultural determinations of what is and is not ‘pretty,’ and once told me she thought her voice wasn’t pretty enough (be strong, my heart), I have to remember that her definitions are still relatively open. As far as she understands it, ‘princess’ means dressed in a fancy dress. It is purely aesthetic, it is in not otherwise limiting in any way. There is no reason in her mind that a pretty princess cannot slay a dragon with her bare hands, and so far I can still get away with little tricks like suggesting that one princess save the other princess before both attending a celebratory party. There is no subversion like assimilation, right?

I know this issue is just opening for us, and honestly I feel completely terrified. On one hand, I believe all the standard feminist lines about girls being taught to be weak, about the devastations of impossible body image and over-sexualization. On the other hand, I feel like much too much is made of it. As my friend’s husband said once after we’d had a good long bitch session about it, “Why wouldn’t she like princesses? You talk about them all the time. They must be the most interesting things around.” I know that restricting something is the best way to increase it’s appeal. As the mama of a red-headed firecracker, I know that starting a fight, on any level, is always a bad idea. Even more importantly, I know we need to step back and let our girls discover the world, on their own terms, and respect who they choose to be in it. Kids are constantly experimenting. The world outside exerts plenty of influence on them, but I believe nothing will ever strike as deep as the home and family they come from.

Obviously I’m going to have to get over my fear that she can’t handle it. How better to communicate to My Girl that I have faith in her as a strong and powerful growing woman than to believe that she will find her way through the princess maze?

Now that I think about it, she is one hell of a force of nature. I wonder where she gets that from?

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On Cussing

I got a comment the other day on that Out the Other End post saying, “You know, sometimes I don’t care for your blog because I try not to curse, and reading salty language makes me start using it. But posts like this remind me why I keep reading. I am farther along the motherhood path than you are, and can relate to every word of what you have written– curse words especially.”

I am not at all offended by this, I feel it’s a tactful statement of a personal preference. In fact, I am flattered that my writing has overshadowed the gap in style and that the commenter has persevered with this blog.

But, it did remind me that we are due for an explanation in the cussing department.

I love swearing. I have always cursed like a shore-bound sailor, and I don’t see any good reason that mothering should stop me. In fact I see every reason to keep at it– mothering is definitely the most frustrating, challenging, infuriating job I have ever done; creating daily, dire occasions for the work fuck. Swearing is a way for me to blow off dangerous steam, with minimal damage. Like beating up a pillow. It’s a safety valve.

I have tried to ease up on swearing in front of my kids, and have only twice slipped up and sworn at them (a line I am not proud to cross). It has been mirrored back at me, but surprisingly little. Our 4yo occasionally says damn, as in “Where is that damn crayon?” and one time she said, when I suggested she roll up a tangled rope, that it was “all fucked up.” Otherwise, although I have never explained it to her, she seems to miraculously understand that those second level cuss words are for grownups.

On this blog, I swear for punctuation and for fun, as well as for release. I have always been well aware that by using those second level words, I am cutting out a large swath of my potential audience. Some folks, like the commenter above, could probably excuse or even appreciate a few well placed curse words, but take offense at my extremely liberal usage, wondering (I imagine) if it’s really necessary to use the F word in a biscuit recipe for example.

On one hand you could say, don’t I want my “message” to reach the largest possible number? Why cut anyone out? Is it worth losing readers over a few words I could mostly do without? I would argue that the internet is a big ole place and there is no shortage of squeaky clean mom blogs out there, with very good content, that appeal to wider audiences. I myself want to carve out a small space where freaks like me, who do not see the irony in wholesome loving mothers cussing up a blue streak, can gather and feel less freakish.

Isn’t that what the internet is for? Gathering disparate folk together in cyber space, an infinite number of venues for an infinite number of freaks, proving to ourselves in a backwards way that we are not so motherfucking alone?

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The 95%

Hey there friends,

I didn’t mean to alarm anyone. I’m doing fine, really. My thing on this blog has been to really bust out the shit that everyone feels and no one says. I give it to you straight. But since we are not together in real life, you don’t get to see the whole picture, just whatever extreme words I offer up on a given day.

Those words were all true, but only one piece of a big whole. You know how the acute emotionality of pms can make true things unbearable, wash away the good stuff and leave you just wallowing? The pain is real– the depression, disappointment, disillusionment is every bit true– but the enormity of it is false. That’s how it goes in the low times for me, be they hormonal or not. My heart takes out the little slivers that have been rubbing wrong in my otherwise very satisfactory life, and climbs into that raw hole, surrounded complete. The 95% goodness of life falls away and the 5% misery engulfs.

When I wrote that last post, I was actually already moving up, out of my hole. I can’t write from down in there in fact. I’ve tried a few times, it’s shit. But I needed to process it before it receeded, and also… I want to give you all the pieces of this weird gig, including the times I hate the job and doubt myself. I feel like that is an essential part of championing motherhood and housewifery– being honest about the whole goddamn thing. Ugly bits and all. If only we all knew how much we all struggle with life! Then maybe we wouldn’t have this ridiculous expectation for bliss and perfection that is really in fact the root of my particular turmoil. Nobody needs help to get through the happy times.

So, yes. I struggle. I get through. I keep on. As one commenter said about her own experience of motherhood, many years past, “I fell down got up fell down got up fell down got up and they were raised.” Amen to that sister.

I do feel like this last fall is a big, important one. A turning point maybe. The fact that my life is only 5% misery, the fact that bliss and perfection are mirages, doesn’t mean we should disregard that intensified emotion of hard times. I think of those times as lenses into an otherwise hidden world within myself. Not very fun to look at, but too important not to look at. Those emotional lows are my truthing points, and I’d better buck up and take heed.

Although life is complicated, and I can’t expect to fulfill my wildly high expectations, I do need to stop shelving myself and my goals. It’s not helpful to anyone. It’s the same old martyr bullshit that I am always fighting.

But. Let’s get on to that 95%, eh? That last post was written, not coincidentally, at the beginning of my true break. Christmas done, mother gone, flu averted and My Man still has another week before school starts. It’s just the sort of miracle I needed. I have had a few afternoons to myself already, and this morning begins a pre-arranged two whole days of bonafide vacation from mothering. Morning till night, two days in a row. All me.

It feels almost sinfully decadent. No, in fact it feels fully sinfully decadent. I had to force myself to take it since after my few afternoons I was already feeling so much better. Good thing I asked ahead for this weeks ago, locking myself in.

This morning, in the wee hours of dawn I crept out of bed. Alone! I quietly pulled on my clothes, packed a bag with entirely grownup things like books and computer, and stole outside. Sunday morning, no one out except the paper man. I rode my bike, no trailer attached, to the bakery and sat quietly ruminating over coffee and croissant. I have a sushi date with two dear friends for lunch, and the rest of the day deliciously empty.

And tomorrow too? My lord, what will I do with all this time?

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I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a fraud.

Lately, for months now, I just don’t feel like being a mama. My kids, my darling beautiful firecrackers, just seem like so much trouble. I have no patience for them whatsoever, everything short of perfect angels pisses me off.

At first I thought it was just because of our big scare, then because we were emotionally recovering, then because My Man’s finals were upon us, then again because we were recovering from those finals. But now he’s been out of school for two weeks, we’ve lazed around and taken it plenty easy, and I am not bouncing back. Some days even their angelic-ness pisses me off. There was one afternoon, frosting Christmas cookies with my girl, the 2yo napping so that she and I could delve deep into our creative task. It should have been a triumphal moment. Hallmark material. But she kept making these little happy noises and I couldn’t concentrate for want of some goddamned quiet.

That’s when I knew something was deeply wrong.

When one has a regular job, there are days, sometimes weeks at a time when you hate your job, when you just don’t want to get up and go to work in the morning. So you call in “sick” or take a vacation, sometimes you go to work anyway with a bad attitude. Eventually there is the big flat wall of burnout, when you’re heart goes out of it and the job becomes a drudge. It occurred to me that I have never kept a full time job for more than 6 months consecutively. I don’t like doing the same thing every day, day after day. I never have, and pre-kids I had structured my life so that I didn’t have to.

Now here I am, 4.5 years into the same job, no vacations to date, going to work anyway with my bad attitude. And let me tell you in case you haven’t been here yourself, it feels like shit to hate your job when your job is taking care of your babies. It feels like shit.

You know I have struggled all along to embrace this mothering gig. I go in and out of good times and bad, as do we all I’m sure. But lately… lately…

It’s not that I don’t believe everything I’ve said here, I do. Mothering is heady, important, pivotal work, we should feel proud, hold our heads high, regardless the lack of any other product for our days. We are raising the next generation, giving them the values and skills that we believe matter. It’s not just okay to stay home with our kids, it’s goddamned beautiful!

As chronicled here on this blog, I submitted myself to my work, I let go all my grandiose ideas for how my life was going to be. It was hard, breaking even, but I think I actually did manage for awhile. Submission served me well during that hardest year in my life, when surrender equalled survival. I survived.

But as much as I have tried to release myself from the cultural expectation of productivity, of ‘greatness,’ I have not at all succeeded. I am beginning to admit to myself that yes in fact, selfish or not, I do want to do something big in the world. I do want to make my little mark and be recognized for my accomplishments. I am beginning to suspect that maybe, for me at least, trying to jam that desire back down and down and down again is simply not going to work. Compression can be explosive.

The explosion came last week. My Man mentioned the possibility of working for his dad in August. It sounds harmless enough, right? If I weren’t such a spoiled twat I would be thankful that we have this incredible safety net, cushioning our re-entry into a world of doubtful income. But instead, I completely lost it.

To understand you’ll need some background, and I’m sorry to say I have to go way, way back. Before Children.

Before we had kids, the idea was that we would split the parenting. As much as I champion staying home with your kids, I never in fact wanted or intended to be the full-time parent. Splitting it down the middle seems so brilliantly perfect to me, each parent getting what seems like just the right amount of time with their kids, and just the right amount of time to invest in grownup endeavors. We are both very driven people. My Man wanted to stop industrial progress via legal monkey-wrenching, and I wanted to figure out how to live as much as possible independent of that industrial system– a perfect team.

But dear god, we thought we could do all that and have kids? Of course we had no idea how much time and energy kids would take. The split parenting would work if we were both just righteously kicking ass in those kid-less hours, but then who’s gonna pay the bills? Someone has to get an at least moderately real job, and splitting the job force just doesn’t often work in the real world. Jobs are not generally constructed to be done part time. So we fell, like most couples, right along the gender lines. Man bringing home the bacon, Woman cooking it, feeding it to the little mouths and cleaning up afterwards. It was not how I’d imagined it, but life never is.

Then it became apparent that My Man needed to go to law school in order to continue fighting his Good Fight. I saw that he was restless and dissatisfied with his limitations, I knew that becoming a lawyer would allow him to kick a lot more ass, and ideally put a bit more bacon on our table than the non-profit he had been working for. I knew that as far as kids and families go, the sooner we got the job done the better, so I said yes. Let’s leave for three years.

Our first 4 or 5 months here in New Orleans were rough for me. I was hugely pregnant and toting a two year old through heat like I had never even conceived of, My Man gone all day learning exciting new things. I had not a friend to speak of, no mountains, no forests, no gill nets, rifles, berry buckets, no chest freezers or stacks of firewood. Everything I had worked toward with my life in Alaska completely irrelevant to this one.

We had been planning to go back home in the summers, so that I could work and get a break from the parenting and My Man could be with the kids more. First hitch was the oil spill here in the Gulf, providing an opportunity for My Man to put everything he had worked for, both in school and before, to good use. But, in retrospect I see that going home for the summers was an unrealistic plan in the first place. Three plane tickets per summer, averaging almost $1,000 each. The logistics of subletting our house here and finding a place to stay up there. Just a big fat money-sucking endeavor, all for the sake of some mountains?

So. We stayed. And I had my next big crisis, seeing the realities of life and money and kids collide, the slow receding of my lofty dreams.

But I met a friend, a kindred; and then over time even a small handful of them. I began to feel at home. I rerouted my towering ambitions to the smaller scape of the household, made a little garden, got cozy with the farmers market, discovered a latent passion for writing.

I faced myself, squared my shoulders, and kept at it. The kids grew up a bit and I gained a little of that blessed distance perspective, remembering that this too shall pass.

I looked forward to the time when we would return to Alaska, my familiar things all laying in wait for my return. My pressure canner, my fertile garden beds, my hunting rifles, my chest freezer and 14 dozen canning jars– all my dormant skills tingling with anticipation. We would go back in May, but My Man would need to study for the Bar, and wouldn’t really be free until late July. Then– then! He would be ready for a break, we could split the parenting for a month or two while I played with myself.

I am very good, disturbingly good, at accepting just about anything so long as I am given time to prepare my mind for it, and an end date to hold out for. Outwardly I might seem perfectly adjusted, but inside myself I hold on to that end date with a frightening tenacity. If it’s taken away, or some relief that I had counted on falls through, I go ballistic.

And so it was that when My Man mentioned casually that maybe we could all go to Spokane in August and he could work for his dad for a month, I had a breakdown of epic proportions. All four years of putting myself on the shelf for later roared to life and I became quite an unrecognizable blur of enraged weeping.

He was blindsided. We need the money and almost more importantly, he needs the health insurance. Our other option is a patchwork of self-employment and part-times, paying out seperately whatever ridiculous insurance premium they charge for a cancer survivor. His dad (also a lawyer) truly needs the help, and after a month in Spokane he could work long-distance from Cordova and continue to get the insurance coverage until he muddled out his own work situation. It made perfect sense. He suspected I might not like it, but thought he’d just test the waters and see how I felt.

I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me and the world was coming to an end. I felt like I’d been chewed up by this growling, frothing motherhood beast which had, at long last, spit me out the other end. Stunned, confused, bloody.

Which brings me finally to my point, dear patient reader. If I am that conflicted inside, if I am holding myself so violently hostage that just the mention of an idea like that throws me into utter oblivion, isn’t something wrong?

As it always goes, this was just the pus rupture of a big fat long-infected wound. I have been feeling a growing concern that I’m actually not suited to being this awesome rock-the-home mother that I write so radiantly about. I want to be that mother, I really do, and for a long time I tried. But maybe I am just not cut out for it. Maybe I would be a better mother if I put the little guy in day care.

I hope you know that I am not opposed to day care. I have always felt that every family must work these issues out for itself. I do believe that, all else being equal, having mom or dad nearby for the majority of the early years is probably better, but I have never been so shortsighted to think that all else is ever equal. Life is nothing if not uproariously complicated. All financial factors aside, mom and dad are no good to anyone if they’re not happy and healthy, more or less. If day care and the real live grown up job it allows preserve some sanity and joy in the home, then I say hell yeah!

But here’s my particular quandry– I don’t want to leave the home to go work at a job. My thing, what I want to do with my hours, doesn’t make money. It might keep a bit of money in our pockets at the supermarket, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know that the direct savings are nothing to write home about. It increases our quality of life, which of course cannot be valued and I never cared to try before. But now that we have a family and all the bills inherent in our (modest!) lifestyle, our days have come down to a tally of hours. For every hour that I wish to be able to weed the garden or can strawberries without the constant interruption of spill wiping, leg hanging and fight breaking up that whittles 60 minutes down to six, My Man must give up an hour of work. Or, alternatively, I put my kid in day care and essentially pay $10/hour to weed my garden?!?!?! What the fuck?

I know that in two more years, the little guy will start kindergarten and I will have 2 or 3 hours a day to do my thing, even more the following year. I know that my kids are growing up, and fast, and before I know it they won’t even want to be around me. I’ll have buckets of time on my hands.

And maybe that’s what this is all about after all. Some wiser, if a bit premature, part of myself preparing for the time when my babies will need me to step back and give them space. Maybe this is some kind of protective measure– me chomping at the bit so that when they open their doors to boot me out, I’ll already know where I’m going.

Or maybe I really am just tired, still recovering from one hell of a few months. Our two week “break” so far has included Christmas, a 12 day mother visit, and now the flu. Last night before bed, as I surveyed the wreckage of our unusually filthy house with dismay, My Man said hopefully that maybe tomorrow we’d both feel better and we could really get on with our supposed break. I gave an exhausted sigh, “Yeah. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll take over the world.”

“No,” he said brightly. “You will take over the world. I’ll watch the kids.”

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