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

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Leading 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 stretching up to wonder. 

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

Some of us scrap together makeshift wings. “It’s all about confidence,” they say, flying like Icarus into the sky. 

We never see them again.

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.

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

It used to be much worse, they say.

Things are getting better, they say.

Just try harder, they say.

I am becoming one of the older ones.

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 belief could make them fly. And yet we sew and patch, try them on again.

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

I gather and carry the wings away. Set them down gently. Build a pyre. 

The other women see the light, move towards its brightness. Dragging their wings behind, they approach to offer their own to the flames.

We stand, blinking back the heat, hotter and hotter. 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.

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 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