Trying on my Old Self: part 2

By the end of the day last Monday, I was completely exhausted and I’d learned a few things.

  1. I neeeeeeed more bright colors in my current wardrobe. I’ve always liked bright colors, but I seriously underestimated how much joy it brings me to wear them.
  2. I felt prettier than I’ve felt in a very long time trying on all my dresses and heels.
  3. It turns out, this whole thing was never about the clothes at all.

When I first started putting things on, I felt so happy! All my bright, beautiful clothes felt like old and much-missed friends I was seeing again for the first time in a awhile. But pretty quickly, memories of all that I was and all that I did back then began pouring in.

I did important, fulfilling work in those clothes. I had great conversations with smart people who cared about the same big problems I did. I got to contribute to the personal and professional growth of people I respected, cared about, and was (still am) so very proud to know. I had conversations and made decisions that impacted every citizen in my state . . . I lived a completely fulfilling life.

I miss that. I miss working on problems bigger than my home and family. And, I hope this won’t be misunderstood, but I am not completely fulfilled by motherhood. The part of me that is fulfilled by motherhood is the part of me that wanted children, loves my children, and enjoys the process of coaching them into adulthood. The mom part of me is fulfilled and the wife part of me is fulfilled by my life as it is . . . but all those other parts have been languishing for years.

On some level, I’ve been aware of this, I know, because I’ve been working on bringing other parts of myself to the fore for the past couple of years. But putting on all those colorful, old clothes and remembering my life before really put it in black and white for me.

I am not fulfilled. Something is missing from my life-something that has to do with community, important work, and my purpose outside my family. I used to think it was writing, now I’m not so sure. Writing always has, and always will be, part of who I am and what I do, but lately its the sharing of my work, the messages I get and conversations I’ve had with strangers and friends about life, grief, healing, fear, growth, and so much more that have given me little tastes, here and there, of that fulfillment I’ve been seeking. So now I’m thinking it’s more to do with connection.

Most importantly of all, in this moment, I’m ready to actually take literal steps toward figuring out what it is and making it part of my life, or rather making my life part of it.

A daunting, but exciting prospect to be sure. : )

Stay tuned!

Trying on my Old Self

Every year for the past six years, I get out my summer clothes totes and look through everything. I’ve gotten rid of some, but I’ve kept most because I just wasn’t ready to part with these parts of who I was before I had kids. As the years have passed, I’ve come to the realization that a lot of who I was before kids is who I am now, too. Yet still, I’ve put off trying it all on again. Maybe I’m afraid it won’t fit my body the same, or that it won’t fit my personality the same, or that I can’t pull it off anymore.

I’ve lost all my confidence since my firstborn, leaving my family, friends, and career out West, and feeling like I don’t know my place. It’s less about my physical appearance and more about my confidence in the personality that I once wore with such ease—the personality that wore these things with pure joy and didn’t worry at all what it might make other people think.

My wardrobe has gotten more and more muted right along with the rest of me.

And just like every year before, I’ve been putting it off this spring. The timing is never right, there’s always something else I should be doing. For instance, today is cleaning day—our messy house is worse than usual, I haven’t had a shower yet today, there won’t be any hair-doos or make-up, and yet, I’m absolutely certain that today is the day. It’s time to shake her out, put her on, step into her, and see how it feels.

So, I’m pulling down the totes . . . my dresses, my colors, my heels . . . myself from seven years ago. And while I clean, I’m going to try it all on and see what fits—my insides and my outsides.  If you want to join me on the journey, I’ll be sharing pics of each outfit (and our messy house) on my Black Ink Birds Facebook and Instagram stories. : )

Whether or not you follow along on my adventure this morning, my point is this: if you don’t feel like yourself in what you’re wearing, it matters. It changes how you approach the world and how the world approaches you. So whatever your true fit is, go looking for it. Whether that means jazzing things up or toning things down, try it all on until who you are on the inside is accurately represented by what you wear on the outside. It might just change everything. : )

How to Handle a Miscarriage

Step One

Hold very still when you realize what’s happening.
Lest you collapse immediately
and drown in the first wave of grief.

(Or drown here.
If you do choose to wait, there will be other opportunities.)

**Helpful Hint**
When presented with opportunities to drown,
always choose to wait.

Step Two

Tell everyone.

“I have lost someone I never had.
There is nothing to bury but these feelings.
There will be no services.”

Or maybe say nothing
If the weight of even one pitying glance
might push you under
and you aren’t strong enough to come back up.

(Or drown here.
If you do choose to wait, there will be other opportunities.)

Step Three

Go back to work.

If you don’t already have children,
bring your sadness with you in your purse
but don’t take it out.
grieve quietly between the lines of your emails
remember to eat
and smile often
wait until you are in the shower, or in bed at night
to wonder if you are only grieving the child that wasn’t
or if the dream of motherhood altogether
is dead and you just don’t know it yet.

If you do already have children,
grieve quietly,
remember to eat
and smile often
fold your sadness into the clean towels
press it into the pages of bedtime stories
it will always be there
but only you will ever see it.

**Helpful Hint**
Remember, if all else fails, sheer force of will-
will see you through to the next step.

Step Four

Read or let people tell you about why it isn’t your fault.

Then, wonder often if it was something you did or did not do.
Wonder less over time.

(Or, drown here.
If you do choose to wait, there will be other opportunities.)

Step Five

Let people and animals love you.
Ask yourself if it matters whose fault it was.
Either way, the little soul has left
the child is not coming
there is nothing for it but to be sad
and let yourself be loved
until you have the energy to love others again.

**Helpful Hint**
If you hold on long enough,

you will have the energy to love others again.

Step Six

Every once in awhile,
when you are alone, and all is quiet,
reach down down down and so carefully
retrieve the memory
of that sweet soul
only you
ever had the privilege of holding.
And cherish it as
only you
are able–
that precious memory
made entirely of feelings
as invisible as the sweet forehead you’ll never kiss.

I Always Fit

It’s a glass jar.
I don’t know where it came from.
I was so little
when I found it
and poured myself in–
not safe
so much as separate.

I grew up.
But the jar remains
and I always fit.

I have children now.
And when I’m in it,
they pass back and forth
through the glass
as if by magic
to my surprise and delight.

I need to break it.
I know I do.

Pouring yourself into a glass jar
is for frightened children.

And whatever was out there
is always still out there
when I so slowly and so quietly
drip back.

Grace, No Dunking, And Capable Kids

Ever since I got worked up enough to write my last post “Protecting the Children”, I’ve been on a bit of a tear about it in my mind. It’s so hard to toe the line between teaching kids how to move through life and making sure you aren’t handing them responsibilities too big for small shoulders. It’s a constant struggle, a constant question, and I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. But below is another example, taken from the kids’ swim lessons the past two weeks, of what I mean about teaching and supporting children through challenges versus just protecting them. It also hits on another topic that means more and more to me as my children get older–grace.

The swim lessons are meant to be one on one, but because the twins are only three years old and they’ve been away from swim since the pandemic, the director of the program suggested they share a teacher for a bit and see how it went. Well, predictably, Ukiah wanted to get in the pool and go while Emil didn’t want to get in the pool at all. So when winter session ended, I requested a separate teacher for my go-getter so he could have more time in the water.

On the first lesson of Spring session, we met Ukiah’s new swim teacher. All seemed well for most of the half hour, but toward the end, I saw the new guy dunk Ukiah, who came up yelling (in an angry way, not a distressed or frightened way) only to be dunked under again.

I immediately started making my way around the pool, keeping my eyes on them as I went. Ukiah was mad and new guy was talking to another adult in the next lane of the pool, not really paying attention. When he did finally look down, Ukiah yelled that he wanted to go back to the edge. New guy essentially blew him off before trying to cajole him into staying with zero success, eventually giving in and heading to the side of the pool where I was standing.

By the time they made it to the edge, the lesson was over and all three of my kiddos were getting out of the cold pool begging for their towels while the teachers started cleaning up all the toys and floaties. I got everyone dry and clean and dressed and as I buckled Ukiah into the car, I asked how he liked his new teacher. He replied that he didn’t (no surprise there) and he wanted to go back to his original teacher with Emil.

I looked him in the eyes while he said it, then I nodded and asked him why. I knew the answer, but I wanted to see if he could and would verbalize it. He replied that the new teacher kept dunking him and he didn’t like being dunked. Once it was clear he could say it himself, I asked him if the new teacher stopped dunking him, would he be willing to give him another chance. He said he would.

This is the crux of it for me. This is a change I want to see in the world. It’s not easy to watch your child have something happen to them that they don’t want. And it’s not easy to watch your child yell at someone who isn’t listening to them. I don’t think anyone would fault me if I’d told that instructor right then that the lesson was over and that I would be requesting a new teacher for my son. In fact, some will fault me because I didn’t! And if Ukiah were less inclined to stand up for himself or had more trouble putting his concerns into words, I might have chosen to handle it for him while he watched. But knowing my boy and knowing that he will encounter many more people and situations in life where he isn’t being listened to, I chose to be his back-up while he handled it himself.

The next week, as we drove to swim, we talked about what he wanted to say, I explained I’d be there with him and that if the new teacher didn’t listen, I would make sure he got someone who did and if no one else was available, he could go back to sharing teachers with Emil. When we arrived and the new teacher walked up, Ukiah said exactly what he’d practiced,

“I don’t like it when you dunk me and I don’t want you to dunk me anymore.”

The new instructor was clearly caught off-guard and a little uncomfortable. His eye brows went up and he looked at me for help, but I didn’t say anything, just waited. After a beat, he looked back down at Ukiah and said,

“I’m sorry, buddy, I won’t dunk you anymore. We’ll find other cool stuff to do today.”

And they did!

I couldn’t have been prouder of Ukiah nor could I have hoped for a better response from his instructor. I love that he apologized then backed up that apology with his actions. After the lesson, Ukiah was happy and excited to go again next week. Even more importantly, he managed a conflict in his own life with his own words. He didn’t need me to do it for him, he just needed me to show him how.

As for grace, one of my wishes for the world we’ll hand over to our kids someday is that we cancel cancel culture. The term “cancel culture” is really just another way of saying “zero tolerance” which is really just another way of saying “There is no hope of forgiveness or growth here.” I don’t want my children cancelled when they’re wrong or make mistakes and they will make mistakes! I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them, to be forgiven, and to grow and change for the better.

So thank you for coming to my “ted talk” with no real punch line because parenting never wraps up and each new situation comes with it’s own set of factors to be considered. All I know is that if I want my children to live in a world full of grace, they’re going to have to know how to give it.

“Protect the Children”

Yesterday I was reading about the controversy surrounding Roald Dahl’s books and the general concept of editing children’s books to make them more “appropriate.” My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t edit or ban books, but that’s not what I’m writing about this morning. As I dove in, reading both sides of the argument, I was drawn into other articles about the current furor about drag queens reading to kids and trans people, well, existing, and I started to see a common thread. In all these arguments for banning, editing, restricting freedom, etc. Almost all of them at some point say, “We need to protect the children!”

Reading that phrase over and over got me thinking about my job as a mother and I discovered something about myself: I almost never see my primary role as protecting my children.

Generally, I believe my primary role fluxes between making sure they know how deeply I love them/how worthy they are of that love and giving them information about how to navigate the world effectively. Protecting them really only becomes a priority in the presence of an immediate threat. Having read all of Roald Dahl’s books as a child, having seen numerous, amazing drag shows, and having met several trans people, I can’t find a single threat to my children there. Honestly, children who haven’t been taught to hate anyone make some of the very best teachers in how to treat people who are different from them–with curiosity, an open mind, and an open heart. The real threats to our kids are often things we can’t protect them from at all.

I mean, I have managed to save my kids from death and/or disaster a time or three, but I wasn’t able to protect my daughter from being bullied at school earlier this year. I wasn’t able to protect her from the pain and confusion she felt over the death of her beloved dog, Orion. And I wasn’t able to protect any of my three children from the chaos of the pandemic that swept through our world, destroying our routines and social connections.

What I was able to do, was support my daughter at home by talking about why bullies do what they do, who could help her at school, and giving her strategies for making good friends. When Orion died, I wasn’t able to prevent the hurt, but I was able to be honest with her, cry with her, and show her ways we can grieve and honor the ones we love when they have to leave us. And through the pandemic, I couldn’t make their lives stay the same, but I was able to show all of my kids how to let go of what’s familiar, even when it’s so hard, and find new ways to connect with others and enjoy life as it is for however long it needs to be that way.

So yeah, I would fight and die for my children in a heartbeat, but my job is not to protect them from what’s inside a book, it’s to talk with them about what they read in books. My job is not to raise them to be afraid of what they don’t understand, it’s to help them understand what they’re afraid of. My job is not to use politics to wrap them up in a cozy illusion of sameness, but to show them the beauty and fun that can be found in our differences.

I’m not here to protect them from the world, I’m here to give it to them, in all it’s flawed, frightening, difficult, beautiful, awe-inspiring glory, along with the love and tools they need to survive, connect with others, and enjoy themselves here.

My Favorite Story : )

Alright, folks, it’s time for me to switch things up a bit. My writing has been awfully heavy of late, and I need a break to feel a little lighter and brighter. To that end, it’s time to tell a story that is, without question, my favorite story to tell. It’s about my dad, who tried to get me to promise to never tell it to anyone, but instead, I promised to share it every chance I ever get. So I’d be remiss not to share it here where literally anyone can read it! (If you don’t know him, don’t worry, his sense of humor is top notch and I have his permission to share.)

Me and my Papa Bear. ❤️

I was fifteen years old and had just walked home from school. As I opened the front door, I could hear my parents arguing, which was pretty rare, so I was going to just slip in quietly and go around the kitchen through the living room to my bedroom. But the minute I came in, dad threw up his hands and stormed out of the kitchen and my mom heaved a big sigh. She was standing at the stove stirring something and didn’t look at me when she said, “Jesse, I have a question for you.” She sounded serious, so I braced myself, but nothing could have prepared me for what she asked:

“Do you have a pair of crotchless underwear?”

It took me a minute to process her words. I’d never even seen a pair of crotchless underwear, much less worn them!

“No!” I yelled. “Gross!”

She finally looked at me, but her expression was concerned. “I told your dad I didn’t think so, but I guess he was folding laundry and it was mostly yours and he says he found a pair of crotchless underwear.”

I opened my mouth to tell her they were absolutely NOT mine, but before I could get a single word out, my dad stormed back into the kitchen, holding up the offending article of clothing, red-faced and yelling, “ARE THESE YOURS?!?!?”

All was silent for a solid five seconds.

Then mom and I started laughing. We laughed so hard we cried. We laughed so hard we could barely breathe. We literally rolled on the kitchen floor laughing. All the while my dad, still extremely upset, kept yelling, “WHAT?! WHAT?! THIS ISN’T FUNNY!”

Apparently, he had only told mom about the undies, he hadn’t actually shown them to her. If he had, she would have probably done what I did then. Still laughing and crying and trying to breathe, I got up off the floor, walked up to him, and flipped what he was holding right side up, so he could see it was, in fact, not crotchless underwear, but rather my sports bra for basketball . . . which he had been holding upside down . . .

Photo above for reference only, the actual sports bra in the story was one of those cotton, two-tone, reversible Jockey sports bras! 🤣

He took a moment to process what he was seeing, then immediately said, “Don’t tell anyone! Promise me you won’t tell anyone!” but mom and I both assured him we would, indeed, be telling everyone. : )

So there you go, my very favorite story to tell. I hope you had a good laugh and I hope you’ll help my mom and I keep our promise by sharing it!

You Should Go

I threw away half of my clothes last week.
Old and ill-fitting
I’m tired of things that don’t fit
but unsure how to take off this
modus operandi
which has become so tight,
It’ll tear if I laugh too hard.

I do know
nothing will change
unless I change it.

So I threw away half of my clothes last week.
It felt so good.
I bought new things
that fit more than my body.

I pulled down all my make-up from
the dark shelf in the bathroom closet.

I put my wallet and lip gloss,
sunglasses and car keys
in my first new purse
since tossing my wallet in a
diaper bag six years ago.

I dragged out my tote full of shoes
I never wear–
yellow heels, butterfly sandals, red satin . . .
I’d forgotten how beautiful they are.

I bought new earrings–
colorful, a little wild, a little ridiculous,
a lot fun
Just the way I used to feel.

I’ve lived here nearly seven years
and my shoes
my colors
my self–
bold, sure,
slightly ridiculous,
considerably optimistic
have been waiting all that time
so quiet, so small.

When my children needed
Motherhood took
more room
then more
still more . . .
There was nothing left
no energy, no time.
She had to go
out of sight
out of mind
so quiet, so patient
until lately.

that part of my self
I put away
unable to part with her
even if I had nowhere
to take her anymore.
That part of myself
has grown restless,
has been rattling around
in the totes and closets,
thumping like a tell-tale heart
against locked, plastic lids–
against my own ribcage
whenever I think about changing up
the ratios.

And Motherhood–
that 800 pound gorilla,
who pushed her aside
who packed the totes
who clicked the lids shut
and walked away
with rolled up sleeves
to focus on her work. . .

the last one I expected . . .

Motherhood just whispered in my heart . . .

“You should go to her.”

I Love it Here

Life will knock you on your ass sometimes. Out of the blue, on a sunny day, suddenly there you are—leveled by whatever it is. Getting back up is a struggle. It takes time and it hurts and it’s scary and even from your knees with bleary eyes it’s easy to see that the life you’re coming back to isn’t the same one you went down in.

Macular degeneration was one of those for me–completely unexpectable—TKO. Going (hopefully very) slowly blind was nowhere near my list of things to watch out for. I went down hard and stayed down awhile–angry, sad, depressed, desperate. Now, I’m working my way through those things (for neither the first time, nor the last) and back to my feet in a new life.

A life that brings with it a whole new way of eating, some serious sunglasses, a wealth of anxiety about vision loss, a lifetime of follow-up appointments, and the knowledge that my future includes someday losing my central vision and, with it, a good deal of my independence.

But it’s worth it.

I love it here.

There’s horses and whiskey and margaritas. I love laughing and lipstick and guiding my babies as they grow. I love the woods and the mountains, misty mornings, and wild thunderstorms. Music, poetry, snow-melt river water running through my hair, and warm sun on my skin.

My man, my friends, and my family are funny as all Hell and have kept me company, laughing or crying, through every nightmare I’ve ever had to face.

And I’m fascinated by the strange muddle of humanity I’m part of—clashing and connecting, messily growing into what we’ll all be and do.

Life’s wellspring of treasures is as infinite as our capacity to endure it’s horrors. And when I’m having trouble finding my feet in the darkest dark I keep at it, not because I have to or need to or should or can but, because I want to;

I love it here.