Random Thoughts on Motherhood & Education

12.12.2013

This post is random. These thoughts are only semi-formulated and possibly not insightful at all. Bear with me. It sounded profound in my head.

I teach the Laurels and MiaMaids in my ward. (That’s Mormon vernacular for ya. Translation: I work with the 14 to 18-year-old girls in my church congregation.)

A few weeks ago, I was supposed to lead a discussion with them about the importance of education and its spiritual and temporal significance in our lives. So, I deferred to some of the many admirable educated women in the congregation. I invited a diverse group—a single immunologist without children, a physician’s assistant with children, a stay-at-home mother with a liberal arts degree—and then I sat back and listened.

I don’t know about the girls, but I walked away edified to the max. (Swell catch phrase, no?) One of my favorite insights came from the stay-at-home mother who spoke, my good friend Amy. She talked about how the lessons she learned in writing her thesis on “King Lear” in college are impacting her life in the present. And her thoughts made me realize something—that so often, stay-at-home mothers only talk about how their educations help them bless their kids in really obvious, specific ways. There’s the dietician who now knows how to feed her kids healthy meals and the elementary educator who’s well equip to teach her kids to read. All of those applications are true and wonderful, but isn’t that just a sliver of the story? As Amy reminded me, education creates enriched, fulfilled beings. It teaches women to love learning. It makes them competent, empowered, passionate and curious. It expands their worldviews and builds their character.

Who wouldn’t want to be raised by a woman like that?

Listening to: The Colbert Report

American Girls

12.11.2013

samantha_brand

Remember her?

I guess I’m declaring this Scarlett, Called Scout Women’s Week, mostly because I have a draft folder full of half-baked ideas (all about women) and I’ve decided it’s time to clean house. (No sexist pun intended.)

Remember American Girl dolls and books? How could you forget? A friend of mine sent me an article from The New Yorker reminiscing about their place in the childhoods of women my age and I couldn’t help but smile. I also found this article flying around. It’s a little more playful and strangely dead-on, if you ask me.

I owned a Samantha doll. That goes without saying. I loved her for being bookish and for looking out for the underdogs. I envied her for her thick dark hair. I imitated her tea parties and refined manners. But, as the story goes, “it’s nearly impossible to identify with a single one.” Sometimes, I felt trapped by my name connection with Samantha Parkington. I felt as if I had to love her velvet hat and stuffy grandmother, because we’d been yoked together by the cosmos. I was drawn to Felicity’s rebellious streak, Addy’s fortitude and Molly’s playful relationship with her older brother—I always wanted one of those. I wanted to be all of them in one way or another. One of the most revelatory lessons I’ve learned growing up is that I actually can be.

What inspires you about other women?

12.11.2013

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I recently read a fun interview between Lena Dunham and Mind Kaling for Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls.

Quotes like this one made me smile. I feel ya on this, Lena.

Lena: Let’s start light: What would you like your legacy to be? For example, I hope to have made it easier to be oneself in this hardscrabble world and to have rescued at least 15 animals from certain death. I’d also like to be known as “prolific, iconoclastic, and winsome.”

I was particularly drawn to their answers to the question, “What inspires you about other women?”—so much so, in fact, that I decided to answer the question myself.

Lena: Can you tell the readers of Rookie what inspires you about other women? I love seeing women stand up for things they believe in, teach their daughters how to do the same, prepare meals out of whatever they have in their fridges, wear helmets when they ride their bikes, call BS when they see it, and accept that feminism comes in a lotta different forms.

Mindy: I love women who are bosses and who don’t constantly worry about what their employees think of them. I love women who don’t ask, “Is that OK?” after everything they say. I love when women are courageous in the face of unthinkable circumstances, like my mother when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Or like Gabrielle Giffords writing editorials for the New York Times about the cowardice of Congress regarding gun laws and using phrases like “mark my words” like she is Clint Eastwood. How many women say stuff like that? I love mothers who teach their children that listening is often better than talking. I love obedient daughters who absorb everything—being perceptive can be more important than being expressive. I love women who love sex and realize that sexual experience doesn’t have to be the source of their art. I love women who love sex and can write about it in thoughtful, creative ways that don’t exploit them, as many other people will use sex to exploit them. I love women who know how to wear menswear.

Sam: I love women who compliment people’s character before their accessories. I love women who have a keen eye for spotting progress and goodness and BS and unabashedly point out all three. I love women who know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” and women who are well acquainted with their own gut and trust it enough to follow it, even if it takes them someplace that terrifies their relatives. I love women who don’t run away from their relatives just because they’re terrified. I love women who can pull whatever obscure thing you need out of their purse and offer it to you like they’ve been carrying it around for just such an occasion. I love women who don’t carry a purse at all, women who leave home with a Camelbak water bottle and a set of keys and figure that’ll be more than enough to get them through the day. I love women who are voracious learners, who expand their minds and better themselves with ravenous enthusiasm. I love women who transition from talking about Jungian psychology to talking about the latest season of “Project Runway” without blinking an eye. I love women who aren’t afraid to make the jokes, instead of just be the butt of them, and women who can be the butt of their own jokes, women who find humor in dark moments and self-love in weak spots. I love women who absentmindedly sing in public and women who are on a first name basis with the crossing guards outside their kids’ elementary schools. I love women who gift wrap with grocery bags and don’t apologize for it, and women who are willing to be vulnerable. I love women who love good food and traveling, and women who know the value of a long, solitary walk in the woods.

What inspires you about other women?

 

Cumberland Island

12.03.2013

We had a great time at Cumberland Island National Seashore last week. We took the ferry over and spent two days camping, exploring and doing yoga on the beach, as pictured below in the photograph I fondly named “Tree Pose on a Tree.” Mostly, we walked. Oh, how we walked. It felt so nice to move my body so much for so long, to emerge from the growing sinkhole in my couch where I spend most of my time working and use my legs. For days. I came back to my little sinkhole feeling more alive.

Highlights included spotting wild horses and boar, collecting driftwood and waking up after a very long night of tossing and turning when Trent plopped a present on my sleeping bag and said, “Tree mail!”—it’s a Survivor reference. I opened the package of soft, sweet baby blankets with my grandmother’s initials embroidered in the corners. She and Trent are my favorite co-conspirators.

CumberlandIsland

In Flight

12.02.2013

You weren’t an accident, but you were a surprise.

I inherited my grandmother’s wispy hair and whimsical ways, but not her womb. Her womb was a fickle place. It tossed out six babies before it let one stay long enough to grow its own lungs and take its own breath. She died six deaths before she was born a mother. And then she was born again. And again. And again. And the third baby, Sara, she named as an act of forgiveness.

Her mother was Sarah too, my great-grandmother, and that Sarah gave birth to nothing but sorrow in the form of a premature baby girl who kept on breathing despite her mother’s wishes. That little thing, my little grandmother, was kept alive with nothin’ but 20-watt light bulbs and hot water bottles in a dresser drawer while Sarah ached in bed, a bed she shared with a drunkard 13 years her senior, a bed she’d made and now had to lie in. She named the baby Lois after a sister she hated, an act of spite, and she raised that little Lois in the wing of her war, lovin’ and hatin’ down a raging river of boulders and brokenness.

My mother, the second Sara, spent three years before I turned up wondering why her womb stayed empty, echoing dull, lonely songs that got louder as the seasons changed and stung the space when other people announced happy news, even people she loved, waiting for what seemed like more and more of a miracle the more and more time passed, like Old Testament Sarah, like Lois, like so many others.

I was sure I’d inherited that waiting game. I planned for it, calculating how much time we’d need to “try” before the fertility specialists would touch me, factoring waiting into my plans like a traveler ready for the worst of traffic jams on the way to the plane. The right plane. The one you get on when you’re good and ready to go.

But that’s not how it worked.

As soon as I left those little white pills in the case, there you were, alive in my womb growing your own lungs, kicking my arms every time I folded them across my chest, resting them on my stomach in an effort to control my panic. I didn’t know if I was ready to be born a mother or if now was a good time, but the plane was in the air, flying over the world I’d walked on, headed to a place I did not know. And there was only one way down, just one way down for me, me and the wanton womb I’d come into by way of Sarah-the-first by surprise.

I’m a sturdy girl—athletic enough, tall enough, fit-looking enough. But I have a history of weakness. I fainted a lot growing up getting shots, thinking about getting shots, giving blood, thinking about giving blood. I got light-headed every time I watched someone use a pizza cutter, the kind that rolls like a terrifying miniature table saw. You know the kind. There’s nothing worse than a blade on a wheel, except maybe a guillotine. Studying the French Revolution in history class? Yep. Passed out then too. In my family, I’m known as something of a drama queen when it comes to pain tolerance. I hear that story about the boy who cried wolf more times than I can say. I’m picked last in a hypothetical fight club we joke about as college roommates. I’m picked last, because everybody knows that I am weaker than I look.

They’re teasing me, always teasing. It’s a joke. Don’t you get it? It’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s …

It’s not a joke. It’s the truth. At least it’s the truth that I’ve let in. And now it’s there in my womb growing with you, crowding out the both of us. And there’s only one way to get it out, just one way out for me, but I am scared to land this plane. I’ve never landed a plane before.

And I don’t know what it’s like where we’re going or if weakness is something I could pass down to you like the state of my womb, or maybe like wombs, weakness skips a few generations. I don’t know, little girl. But I know that we’re movin’ along together, looking out the window as the world changes below us, passin’ over raging rivers of boulders and brokenness, and I am feedin’ on the light comin’ in through that window.

In my better moments, little girl, with that light on my face, I think I might be stronger than I look. I think I might be able to labor those lies right out of me and land this plane. Safely. For both of us.

And when I do I will hold you in my arms on the ground, both of us still dizzy from the heavens, and I will name you something new, something glorious, as an act of redemption.

I don’t know why we’re here now, little girl, but I know it was no accident.

Still Thankful

12.02.2013

We’ve been married for quite a while now, but this was our first Thanksgiving away from family. Being away was fine—we’re grown-ups and all—but it did make me profoundly grateful for the people who I love the people I love. That, above all, is what I found myself feeling joy about this week.

I feel incredibly blessed by the people who love my friends and family in the ways I’m bad at loving them. I’m grateful for everyone who relates to them and empathizes with them in all the countless spheres where my experience and perspective fall short. I can’t feel everyone’s pain or fill everyone’s need. I can’t be everything to anyone, however much I might want to, and in the face of that, I find myself grateful—really grateful—that no man is an island. That no woman is an island. That when I can’t or won’t, there are still people to be there for my people.

BRB

11.22.2013

I’ve been too busy living to blog this week, something I won’t apologize for. In the words of a popular hashtag I see moms use when they know they’ve been posting too many pictures of their kids, #sorrynotsorry.

Mostly I’ve been swamped with work, but when I have had free time, I’ve filled it by tinkering around with a spoken word piece I’m tentatively planning to perform at Urban Grind’s Open Mic Poetry Night on December 5th. Tentatively.

And when I’m not doing that, I’m worrying about planning our Cumberland Island sea camping trip for this weekend—yes, that’s worrying about planning, not actual planning. That’ll happen tomorrow when my deadlines have passed.

Happy weekend!

Listening to: Avril Lavigne’s new album, which I’d hoped would be a reinvented, grown-up offering from Ms. Lavigne, but is pretty much “Sk8er Boi Part II.” Don’t bother.

Birthday? Affirmative.

11.14.2013

This definitely might qualify as one of those things it’s awkward to blog—like narcissistic awkward. But I’m doing it anyway. I have my reasons: one being that I want to archive these so I can easily reference them when I’m in need of an extrinsic pick-me-up (however temporary those might be), another being that I want to document how amazing my Atlanta friends are and how thoroughly I’ve fooled them into thinking I’m amazing too. (That humility may sound feigned in light of what I am about to post, but I promise I’m serious. I’ve fooled them good.)

I received the following lists of reasons why I’m great from various friends in celebration of my birthday last week. I love these women so very much, not just because they clearly love me too, but also because it takes a special kind of thoughtful awareness to write lists like these.

JennyYoung

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Nesting

11.12.2013

I’ve officially entered the “nesting” phase. (Isn’t that what the kids are calling it these days?) I’m cutesy-averse, but that’s neither here nor there. A nursery can be hip, no?

My friend Kimberly Moore says it can. And she’s a real-deal interior designer, so she should know. Plus her name sounds like it belongs on the tag of a plush bath towel with the word “Collection” after it, which gives her instant credibility if you ask me.

I asked Kim to help me translate some of the kid spaces I saw floating around into a real life room in our apartment, and I asked her to help me figure out how to make that second bedroom work as both a nursery and a home office. She sent me all kinds of ideas, floor plans and diagrams.

Inspiration:

Inspiration

Image Sources: 1 2 3 4

Kim’s Design Help:

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Finished Room:

JK. We’re not even close. My babe will probably be a full-blown kid before this room matches my vision.

But hey, a pregnant lady can dream.

‘Shrinking Women’ And Other Amazing Spoken Word Poetry

11.11.2013

After two months in near-hibernation, I feel like a social butterfly these days. Pizza joints, game nights, comedy clubs and so on. Next up? A coffee house slam poetry performance with a couple friends tomorrow night. Can’t wait! We’ve been emailing spoken word YouTube videos back-and-forth for weeks in preparation.

Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Life and Death

11.08.2013

Grandpa

“One of us is bringing life into the world.

One of us is helping life leave it.

And there are no instruction manuals.”

I was talking to my grandma on the phone a few weeks ago when she said that. I was still horribly nauseous at the time. She was wandering around in the valley of the shadow of death. Not her death, her husband’s, but her wandering was no less real. My grandpa’s rapid decline following his cancer diagnosis left her lost in the shadows—planning a funeral, riding through her messy emotions, weighing everyone’s wishes, caring for an all but incapacitated man, a man who had taken great pride in waiting on her every need for more than 60 years, a man whose lucidity painfully came and went. I listened to her during those days, helpless. How do you help your husband die? And how do you do it without losing yourself?

I didn’t expect there to be a learning curve with pregnancy, not like this. There’s a learning curve with caring for a newborn, a clearly delineated set of skills you should master to keep your baby alive after birth. There’s even a distinct cultural acknowledgement of a postpartum learning curve for managing yourself after birth. Your “body after baby” and “marriage after baby” and “lifestyle after baby”—there are books on these topics, support groups, conversations. But before baby? Sometimes it seems you’re on your own. Sometimes it seems pregnancy is just something that happens to you, not something you need to learn how to do. There are dietary restrictions to abide by and birthing techniques to practice, but that’s such a small sliver of an immense experience. For months, I existed under the weight of one pestering thought about pregnancy: “I’m not good at this.”

And then one day, my grandma found some stability in her struggle. In the chaos, she found her feet. She went through enough wrongs to know what felt right. She let the trauma happen, then pass, then leave contentment of a kind in its wake.

And I did the same. One day, I woke up feeling like progress was all I could ask for, and all of a sudden, my feet were there underneath me again. I’m slowly learning how to be pregnant, how to manage my body, my emotions and the well-meaning expectations of the people around me. I’m learning who “Samantha, the pregnant woman” is, and how she’s changed and what she has to offer. I’m feeling like it doesn’t matter if I’m “good at this” because, well … what does that even mean? I’m recognizing myself in this, and that feels like enough.

And of course, as soon as we start progressing, the second trimester starts and the nausea subsides and grandpa’s health takes a turn for the better. And the winds shift. Because winds do that. And we are different than before.

Hey, girl.

11.05.2013

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It’s a she. She’s a she.

And although she doesn’t have a name yet and probably won’t until we hold her in our arms (yep, we’re those people), she’s feeling a little more real to us now. She might be a Scarlett. Or a Scout. Or a Scarlett called Scout. Or she might be someone else completely. But she’s ours. And she’s got the profile of a little baby supermodel if you ask me. What a babe.

So far, my favorite thing about having a daughter is thought of Trent someday walking in the door and saying, “How are my girls?” For whatever reason, that’s the fantasy I’ve been replaying in my head all evening. That’s the silly little daydream I’ll hold onto as I float and wrestle and swoon and panic through the new few months. And years. And decades.

 

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