On Motherhood (Parental Advisory: Explicit Truth & Inappropriate Musings)

I didn’t want to do this. I really, truly didn’t.

But as Mother’s Day approaches, I feel obligated to share a few perspectives on motherhood, as well as some of my very best dance moves.

Just in case it helps one mother make sense of her experience.

Just one.

Because what I’m about to say (and show you) is probably going to make many more mothers feel confused. Maybe even a bit uncomfortable.

And that’s okay, because I would prefer mothers feel confused and uncomfortable rather than, say, guilty or ashamed (the two emotions most commonly associated with motherhood).

So this post comes with a Parental Advisory for it’s explicit truths, the first of which is this photo of me. Yes, that’s me. I’m on Day 2 of my daughter’s recovery from ankle surgery. The ankle she broke when her older brother/babysitter double-bounced her on the trampoline.


I look as bad as I felt. Which is really bad.

My daugher? Oh, don’t worry. She’s doing great. Much better than her mother, actually. Here’s a picture of her.

And now for the inappropriate musings.

I think motherhood is a lot like climbing Everest, losing your legs to frostbite and wondering,

“That was an amazing experience, but would I do it all again?”

?

As I deliberate upon this question, I realize that it is possible to appreciate and critique something. To see beauty while noting its imperfections. To understand that something is good but also has a very dark side.

For example, let’s take Diet Coke.

I love Diet Coke. I’ve been known to drink so much Diet Coke that I shiver with cold. One of the reasons I have a Costco subscription is because I can buy Diet Coke in bulk.

I also know Diet Coke is probably going to give me cancer. Like some newfangled, mysterious cancer that doesn’t exist yet.

Something like ear cancer.

And yet I am still able to enjoy my delicious, bubbly, acidic Diet Coke even though it may very well kill me.

Now I’m not equating motherhood to death by ear cancer. As any mother will tell you, motherhood may make you want to die, but it will not let you.

My point about Diet Coke is simply to reinforce what I said earlier.

It is possible to appreciate and critique something. To see beauty while noting its imperfections. To understand that something is good but also has a very dark side.

For me, that something is motherhood. Because it is hard. Like gut-wrenching, soul-killing hard.

And no one is talking about it in any real way that matters.

I didn’t lose my temper until I had kids. I didn’t drink wine every night until I had kids. I didn’t think I was a horrible person until I had kids.

I’ve done stuff that never shows up in Parents Magazine or the Love and Logic book or the “How To Keep From Killing Your Child” website that unfortunately doesn’t exist. 

I’ve spent time fantasizing about very bad things. Like suggesting they swim the length of the pool without swimmies or play hopscotch in the street or hitchhike home from school.

(My Top 3 Mothering Fears are child drowning, child getting hit by a car, and child being kidnapped. And yet I fantasize about them sometimes.)

Would I climb Everest again? I’m not always sure.

But I’m already up here on top of Everest with no legs. And I’m not sure if I can climb back down, so I wonder if it was worth it.

Especially in the grocery store checkout line when they spill their brrrberry slushy in my purse while reaching for 20 packages of Skittles.

Especially when they fight at the dinner table after I’ve taken the time to actually home-cook a meal, which is a very special occasion that should be treated very specially.

Especially when they say they hate me. 

Especially then.

There is a space that exists in the world of motherhood. A space that is just a little left of center, where we feel all the love our hearts could possibly hold, where we would not hesitate to lay down on railroad tracks for our children.

And yet in that same space, there live emotions like anger and resentment because let’s be honest, who really wants to be run over by a train?

I want to be clear. I love being a mom. I really, truly do. And I am a pretty good mom on most days.

But I’m not a Perfect Mom. And I’ve finally stopped trying.

If you can identify with anything I’ve written in this post, I have some good and bad news for you. The bad news is that you aren’t a Perfect Mom, either.

The good news?

You’re a Brave Mom, and I love you.

xoxoako

PS – In case you haven’t seen this on my Facebook page, I invite you to watch a video of me performing an impromptu dance routine for my daughter. She’s sitting on the toilet, feeling sad because her ankle is broken. I’m trying to cheer her up by making a total fool of myself. Because that’s what Brave Moms do.

PPS – If you know another Brave Mom, share this post with her. Then go get a drink together because you probably need it. 

I Wished to be a Sparrow (Reflections on depression & faith)

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I stood in the field alone, looking out to the western foothills. The sun was starting its descent from day to night, but it wasn’t quite sunset.

Not quite.

It was the magical time just before. The window through which everything is more vibrant in color, more alive, rimmed with gold. My favorite time of the day.

“This is when they should bury me,” I thought.

This is when they should lower my body into the ground, when the sun turns the world golden before its arc into night.

When the leaves on the trees flash a bright spring green. And the cottonwood floating in the air looks electric. When the long grass glows warm, its tips a blur of undulating white.

When everything is just a little too bright, just a little too beautiful, just a little too intense.

Just like me.

I was out in that field looking for God, not for salvation but for some sign that things would be okay after I died. For me and for the people who would miss me so, so much.

Depression is like being dead in a world that is cruelly alive. Cold and hollowed out like a corpse, you try to connect with the living, try to feel the warmth of their hope, but you can’t.

My only tether to this life was my love. For my mom, my brother, my friends. For the dreams of what my life was supposed to be. For my children who had yet to be born.

But the pain was becoming greater than my love, and so I was preparing to die. I didn’t know how exactly. That was for later, after I’d made peace with myself and with God in this field.

After I knew I’d done my very best to live. Because I wanted them to say at my funeral,

“She did her very best to live.”

I noticed sparrows darting back and forth across the field. As the sun began to set, they emerged.

Dozens and dozens of them flew about, only a few inches above the glowing grass, catching bugs in the last light of the day. A few of the braver ones flew close enough that I could hear their chirping and the swish of their wings.

They were exuberant and joyful. And I contemplated why they were not afraid. Their minds could not comprehend that the setting sun would rise again the next day, but they flew like it would.

They had faith that it would.

I wished to have that kind of faith.

I wished to be a sparrow.

 

Remind Me to Start a Revolution about that Next Time

This is the third morning in a row that I’ve woken up at 4:30 a.m. I thought it was a fluke, but three times in a row isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. And within patterns, there is usually meaning.

What does it mean to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for three mornings in a row?

To figure it out, I need to write because something is swimming around at the edges of my subconscious, swirling in the purgatory between my unconscious and conscious mind.

Writing allows me to fish it out, to cast a line into those unknown waters and wait for the tug of recognition. And when it comes, if I finesse the rod just right, if I don’t pull too hard or too gently, that something will emerge, thrashing and alive from the depths.

I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an excerpt from a book I was reading, a clever line written in jest by the author about an issue she cared about but not quite enough to do anything about.

“Remind me to start a revolution about that next time,” she wrote.

I cast that out across the expanse of my subconscious and wait, senses alert. What do I care about but not quite enough to do anything about? What do I want to start a revolution about next time because right now, this time, is not a “good time”?

fishing

The cursor on my computer screen blinks. I am patient and quiet. Is anything there? Or better yet, is anything there that I can handle right now?

Because I am not sure this is a good time to start a revolution, thank you very much.

I’m married with two kids and a dog. I work full time. My family is coming off four weeks of taking turns being sick with the flu because apparently “the vaccine didn’t quite match up this  year.”

I’ve somehow managed to contract pink eye, most likely from all the visits to the pediatrician’s office. (Because, flu.)

And last night, my nine year-old told me there’s a lice outbreak in her classroom and she thinks her head itches…

So no, it’s not really a good time for me to start a revolution, unless it’s to set fire to my house, my eyeballs, and my daughter’s hair.

Unless it’s to quit my job as a mother/wife/caretaker and tell somebody else, anybody else, that I’m all done now.

In fact, even if I don’t start a revolution, if I’m really, really, really honest with myself, I AM ALL DONE BEING A WOMAN IN THIS WORLD.

Oh wait. That’s it. That’s the something that I want to start a revolution about next time, and it just landed at my feet, thrashing and alive from the depths of my subconscious. There was no waiting for the second and third tug, no finessing of my rod. It just burst out of the water like Jaws.

I am all done being a woman in this world. 

Is that even possible?

How can I quit my job as a mother, wife, caretaker and overall keeper of my family’s universe, because I’m pretty sure it would all implode into a black hole without me?

How can I stop feeling the conflicting demands of work and motherhood where being in one place means I’m not somewhere else, so I’m always, always failing at both?

How can I acknowledge the pain of my stay-at-home-mom friends, women who didn’t understand how their “choice” would drastically limit so many of their future choices?

How can I tell my daughter that even though she’s smart and hard working, she’s at an incredible disadvantage compared to the boys in her class?

How can I?

How can I not.

I am all done being a woman in this world. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth, and not doing anything about it? That makes me a co-conspirator in everything that hurts me, my daughter, other women, and men for that matter.

Since I can’t really be all done with my identity as a woman, I guess that means I’m all done with this world. I’m all done with a world that makes it so incredibly hard to be a woman.

Does that make me a revolutionary?

Perhaps. It all depends on how I move forward from here. And while I’m not sure what this will look like exactly, I do know this. My efforts will not be unrelated. They will not be flukes.

Like waking up at 4:30 a.m. three mornings in a row, there will be a pattern with meaning.

And if anyone looks closely and cares to fish it out, they will find it for themselves.

I am all done being a woman in this world. And I’m starting a revolution about it this time

One-Night Stand Activism (Waking up after the Women’s March)

For many women who attended the Women’s March, becoming an activist was kinda like waking up after a one-night stand, looking over at the dude sleeping next to you and wondering, “Now how the heck did that happen?”

The evidence is there. Hand-made signs propped up in the garage. Maybe a pink hat or two in the front hall closet. You know who your Senator is and how to reach him. (I say “him” because I have an 90% chance of being right on that.)

And perhaps you’ve sent him an email or called his office about issues you had no idea even existed four weeks ago. (Cabinet nominations? I didn’t know that was a “thing” until this year, and I’ve been a card-carrying voter since 1992.)

You’re conversant in a slew of acronyms (ACA, NoDAPL, NSC) and new phrases like “alternative facts” and “false media.” And you’re really, really pissed about them.

Even though I’ve identified as a feminist since my high school days, I never considered myself an activist. That label was for angry people. People with issues. And I considered myself a relatively nice person with a relatively normal, issue-free life.

Mostly because of privilege (of which I have a lot, despite being born female) and partly because I’d lulled myself into believing that women were on the rise.

activist
Who are these people? And how did I get here?

But right after the Trump Apocalypse, I signed up for the Women’s March. I’ve never marched in anything before except high school parades. To me, marches were a thing of the past.

Yet like a newly-hatched sea turtle with this overwhelming need to get to the ocean, it was calling me, and although I didn’t know exactly why, I knew that’s where I needed to be, even if the seagulls tried to eat me.

Speaking of seagulls, I was nervous that my daughter and I might be risking ourselves in some way by attending. Marches can take on a life of their own, and given the right circumstances, they can turn into mobs, which are legit dangerous things.

That said, I struggled to envision a bunch of women setting cars on fire or breaking windows. Violence and mayhem are not typically a women’s way of dealing with conflict. And really, who’s gonna clean up that mess afterwards? We knew better than to do that to ourselves.

Then there was the fear of the counter-protesters rolling in with their hate and maybe even their violence. But deep inside, I knew all the nice ladies with their cute pink hats would become poster-wielding ninjas if something like that went down. (Especially the grandmas. They seem especially angry nowadays.)

It did cross my mind that some crazy person might shoot at us. So I took stock of my life and decided I’d make a good martyr for middle-class mothers. That’s a segment of society with a lot of untapped power, and seeing one of their own go down might be just the ticket to unleash it.

So all told, I felt quite safe. And strangely ready to die if needed.

Does that make me an activist? Yes, I think it does.

And if you’ve read this far into my post, you might be an activist, too.

You might be an activist if you are afraid of terrorists attacks (I mean, who isn’t?) but don’t think throwing hate at the entire Muslim world is going to make us safer.

You might be an activist if you have a uterus and would like men to stop talking about it, let alone making laws about how you use it.

You might be an activist if you care about the environment, public education, science, or national security. Because all of those things are under attack right now. (And I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

You might be an activist if you have a child. Or know a child. Or sometimes see a child at the grocery store or at the park. Because what’s imprinting on their young minds and hearts as “normal” is anything but.

You might be an activist if your family immigrated here one year ago or hundreds of years ago, and the thought of a wall brings up memories of communist Russia.

Speaking of Russia, you might be an activist if you wonder just how much they were involved with Trump’s election. (Or you might be a paranoid conspiracy theorist.)

You might be an activist if you have a friend or loved one whose nationality, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, ability or socioeconomic status make them even more vulnerable than they were before. As if they were not already vulnerable enough. 

Yes, you might be an activist, and you probably always were. Because like most people, you probably value things like love and respect. You probably were taught to believe America is the land of the free and the brave. And you probably know this is only going to get better if everyone, every single one of us, finds that little bit of activist in ourselves and does something.

Even if it’s just reading this post.

xoxoako

PS – Share this post with a friend and you’re not just a one-night stand activist, you’re a revolutionary. (More on that in my next post.)

No Longer Anonymous: Alexis Kanda-Olmstead Overcomes the Terror of the Publish Button

This came out today on WordPress Discover, and I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for your support of my writing. xoxoako

 

Alexis Kanda-Olmstead’s moving essay on body image, “Making Friends With This Body,” was the fifth post on AKO Collective — a blog she started in August to showcase her writing. We spoke with Alexis about her blog’s origin story, her inspirations, and Blogging University.

How did AKO Collective come to be?

My first blog was written under a pseudonym for many reasons. First, I didn’t identify as a writer, so I didn’t want to be judged as one. And second, I swear. A lot, actually. And not just tiny swear words. I employ the biggest, baddest ones regularly. So I wrote an anonymous blog to keep my very responsible, high profile job in education. And so that other moms wouldn’t cancel playdates with my children.

It was after visiting a fellow blogger that I realized this “shadow blogging” thing wasn’t allowing me to reach my people via social media, which is very important to blogging. It wasn’t helping me access the truest parts of myself, which is also very important to blogging. So I started AKO Collective, which is a complete departure from my first blog. It’s not about parenting, there are no swear words, the material is much more hopeful in tone, and children are not harmed in its making.

I hit “publish” on AKO Collective in August and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack. To be out there, with my name on something that is my creative work, is quite terrifying. I still find it very uncomfortable. But more than the anxiety, terror, and discomfort was this very strong feeling, a knowing almost, that this was necessary, that it was time.

Read more…

Broken Wings Make Broken Women (Or perhaps it is the other way around?)

Living in a man’s world.

Is like being dropped from the sky, expected to fly.

“This is how you do it,” they say, “Open your wings. It’s easy. Watch.”

But I don’t have wings, so I land hard, the breath knocked from my lungs. 

On the ground is where we find each other. Delicate hands reaching out to touch, eyes looking up to wonder.

Why are they flying and we are not? What have we done wrong? 

We scrap together makeshift wings. Tying together branches, whatever we can find.

The younger ones throw themselves into the air, over and over. Kites desperate to catch the wind, only to bounce and crash across the ground.

“It’s all about confidence,” others say, flying like Icarus into the sky. We never see them again.

The older ones sit down and watch, mending wings, sighing, and giving advice.

Things are getting better, they say.

You should be grateful, they say.

It could be much worse, they warn.

I am becoming one of the older ones. Tired of watching, my hands cramped from binding and patching.

I look at the wings in my lap, broken and splintered. They are too heavy, too big. Fit to another.

They are not our wings. No amount of confidence or effort could make them fly.

Broken wings make broken women… Or perhaps it is the other way around?

I gather the wings. Carry them away. Set them down gently and build a pyre. 

The other women notice the light, curious. They move toward its brightness, dragging their wings behind, and then lift them up as an offering to the flames.

Together we stand, blinking back the heat, hotter and hotter. A circle of women around burning wings.

The air expands, and like bits of twirling ash, we begin to rise. Straight up.

We are flying.

Brave Enough to Break His Own Heart

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A book once found me as I wandered through Barnes and Noble, bright green and small with a collection of quotes by Cheryl Strayed. Within its pages, I find language for my longings, fears and quietest dreams. text

Yesterday, my son’s heart was broken for the first time and the book gave me this.

braveenoughquate.jpg

 And so I wrote this.

My heart is outside my body, wrapped within the body of my child, and it broke yesterday. The feeling familiar – a cramp just to the left of my sternum followed by a sinking elevator of sad.

down

down

down

Landing in my stomach and rising back up. Over and over again.

My sweet boy who was so brave to love. I did not know when I birthed him that his pain would become my own. But here he is, broken in love for the first time, and I can do nothing because the pain does not belong to me.

Should I tell him this is just the beginning of the brokenness? He will break again, and he will break others. Such waste and futility, this instinct to love.

Should I tell him even when he marries, the breaking continues? There is no respite in marriage, the breaking is just different. Small fissures if left untended spreading like cracks across a windshield. With time or impact, they can shatter.

Should I tell him when he has a child and puts forth this tender creature into the world with only its skin to protect it, he risks the worst breaking of all? Because here I am, my heart within a heart, broken. It is like no other pain.

Yes, I will tell him these things.

I will tell him this is just the beginning of the brokenness. He will break again, and he will break others. Even though this knowing may cause him to hesitate in love, to step to the side when it comes for him bright and alive.

And I will tell him some loves break more than the heart. I do not wish those loves for him, but there is no way to tell, in that moment of blinding light, which is which. As much as I want him to stand in its path, letting it consume him and lift him and twirl him about, I want him to know what it means to be brave.

Brave enough to break his own heart.

I will tell him to marry, to trust another with the tending of his heart. And to know the responsibility of tending for another’s. When he notices the inevitable cracks, rather than looking around them or hoping they will spread no further, he will be brave enough to explore them. He will trace the cracks with his finger to see where they originated and where they end.

He will show them to his wife and say this is where it hurts. Right here. He will be brave enough to ask for what he needs. And when she does the same, he will know to hear her, to pay attention. Because these cracks can shatter.

As I sit with my heart within a heart, broken, holding him while he weeps, I feel something different. I move into it, exploring this space where a child’s heartbreak calls to a mother’s love.

The feeling familiar – a cramp to the left of my sternum. But it doesn’t descend to my stomach in sadness. It stays centered in my chest. And I wonder.

Can the heart break and love at the same time?

I don’t know yet, but if this proves to be true, I will tell him. I will say that on the path where he stood in the way of love, where he let it consume him and lift him and twirl him about, he may one day have to walk it again, with his heart within a heart. Broken. Holding tight.

I will tell my sweet boy that I am in pain because he is my child. I feel as tender-skinned and helpless as he does. I wish it were only a toy that broke, something I could replace. But he only gets one heart.

And I will tell him to brace himself because there is no other pain like it. And no other love. So he must be brave, so very brave.

Brave enough to break his own heart.

 

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Making Friends With This Body

My body and I are on speaking terms again. After years of anger and silence, we’re re-learning how to be together. It is a truce of sorts.

We started out the best of friends. When I was little, I liked to make it run in my navy blue Nikes with the white swoosh that made me feel so fast. We rode bikes and caught silver wriggling fish. It felt good in the sunshine and so excited in the rain.

It was me and I was it. Strong and fun and wonderful.

But then, the betrayals. I guess you could say my body broke my heart one too many times. So we stopped being friends. And even though I didn’t start it, I finished it.

We are both to blame.

The first betrayal was when I was a young girl and my babysitter touched my body. He was curious. I was terrified. Not only by the boy, but by the police who interviewed me, the therapist(s) who made me talk about it, and the other boys who came after him, all wanting to touch my body.

I learned a deep lesson that I still carry today. Girl bodies are not safe. Girl bodies are not strong. They make you vulnerable to very, very bad things.

Then I went through puberty, and the hair and the blood and the pain that came with it felt more like a disease than a rights of passage. Parts of my body that made me uncomfortable defined me. My body was no longer fun. It was scary.

The final betrayal started soon after and continues, some 30 years later. My body is not perfect. And it stubbornly refuses to be perfect no matter what.

In high school, I carried my tiny breasts into Victoria’s Secret, hopeful that somewhere among the lacy gorgeousness, I’d find a way to make them bigger. But the sales lady said, “I’m sorry, we don’t make bras in your size.”

My mother tried to help. She introduced me to padded bras, searched for inserts made of silicone and water for a “natural look.” If we’d had the money, she might even have paid for surgery. (I am grateful we didn’t have the money.)

As if that weren’t enough, my body refused to be lithe and thin. So I learned a new trick. I stopped eating. And when that failed, I stuck a pencil down my throat until I gagged, flushing it all down the toilet.

Even though it was painful and scary, it was less painful and scary than being fat in a world that only loves thin. Because the opposite of love is hate, and I didn’t want the world to hate my body.

Then, endometriosis. Surgery after surgery. Harrowing pregnancies. Lost babies. Miracle babies. More surgeries. So many, I actually don’t remember how many. My body wasn’t wonderful. It was a battlefield.

And yet.

And yet, I started to remember that little girl body, the one before the betrayals. The one that could run so fast, feel good in the sun and excited in the rain.

Because I have a daughter and she is nine, around the age when this all started for me.

I see her brown legs running, small versions of my own. As she giggles in the rain, I take a chance and step out into it, too. It is cold and gentle.

Through her, I am making friends with this body again.

It’s been awkward and scary at times, this re-learning. Painful for sure. When she asks if she looks fat, I recoil and sink inside myself. But then we stand together in the mirror, looking at our bodies.

I reassure her, and myself, that our bodies are beautiful.

When she is too nervous to ride her bike or touch the silver wriggling fish that she caught, I encourage her.

I tell her, and myself, not to be scared.

And when she asks questions about how her body will one day make babies, asks where exactly that baby will come forth from her body, I explain to her, “Oh my dear, this is the very best part.”

Because her body will make another body, and it will be strong and fun and wonderful.

And maybe, if she is very lucky like me, it will teach her something she forgot long ago.

 

A Whole New World (Or When You Realize Like Keanu in the Matrix that You’re Just Food and Fertilizer)

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I have been coaching, mentoring and championing women on college campuses for almost twenty years. Inspired and awestruck by the way they see the world as full of possibility, as a place where they can and should lead, I have followed their lives and careers with great hope.

Their trajectory mirrored mine in a way. I was a good student growing up, moved through life with purpose and as much self-confidence as a young woman can have in her twenties. It was all going to work out perfectly I assumed, as did everyone else.

Then marriage, childbearing, caregiving and (what was that called again?) oh yes, my career, converged upon each other like so many tectonic plates, creating a whole new world.

This new world took over a decade for me to learn to navigate, and I am still learning. New mountains crop up as each child moves into a new stage of life. My relationship with my husband, sharp rocks at first, has eroded with the force of our love into a comfortable walking path. I am getting more used to the shifting and moving of the earth beneath me.

And just as I was finding my footing, the college women I’d sent off like so many birds into the sky began to fly back to me for reassurance and guidance because they, too, were in the midst of their own creative conflict, the re-creation of their own worlds. Some chose to stay home with their children, some chose not to have children at all. Many have tried to find a space in between.

I realized through talking with my former students, and with my female colleagues and friends, that this wasn’t a singular, unique experience. This wasn’t just my experience. This was a woman’s experience. And no one was talking about it.

So I read books like Lean In, read critiques of these books, authored a somewhat rageful mommy blog, and finally, as if experiencing my own version of the Matrix where Keanu realizes he’s just food and fertilizer, found myself curled up in anger and despair.

The system wasn’t set up for me to succeed. I had known this intellectually but not believed it. My education in college had said as much, but that was the past. Women’s Lib happened before I was even born, so certainly we’d figured it out by now?

Apparently we hadn’t. It took me about a year to mourn the myth of my childhood and young adulthood, to turn the anger and despair into something more. To find inspiration in the disappointment, to see that under my anger was love for something greater, and to decide with the greatest conviction of my life that it was time to do more, to talk more, to be more.

I cannot in my lifetime change a millennia of human conditioning, but I can change how I respond to it. I cannot dismantle societal beliefs that women are not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough, but I can dismantle those beliefs in myself. I cannot liberate the hearts and minds of all women in the world, but I can at least get started.

As I open into this new world, a place where I am the tectonic plate, where it is my passion and voice that is the force of creation and re-creation, I feel nervous, hopeful, vulnerable. And brave.

I invite you to join me here.

Ready?

Let’s go.

xoxoako