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motherhood

Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

Mother’s Day.

May 10, 2015

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By Leza Lowitz

The celebration brings up the immense gratitude I have for my mother, but it is also tinged with grief. For ten years I’ve longed to have a child, but haven’t been so blessed. Thankfully, my yoga practice has helped me look at this challenge as a kind of practice in itself–I have no other choice. My Japanese husband and I have applied to adopt, but our chances are slim. At 43, my age makes adoption even more difficult in a country where adoption is rare and bloodlines are almost feudal in their importance. I have to face it: my long road to motherhood might be at an end.

As the years have passed, I’ve had to ask myself questions many mothers never consider. Why do I want to be a mother anyway?  I meditate on the answer. I want to experience another kind of love, something beyond what I know or can even imagine. Mother love.

But I’m not there yet, not at all. All the effort, pain, and disappointment of infertlity has gotten too much to bear, and I haven’t been loving myself. So while we wait for a placement from the orphanage, which looks unlikely, my husband suggests I go on a pilgrimage to the motherland—India. If I can’t have a child, can I discover another way to experience motherhood?  If not, can I let go, and find contentment with life as it is?

Nothing to lose. So I pack my bags and head to India, hoping it will be the perfect place to heal and to find the mother within. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Meditation, motherhood

Medea: A Mother’s Day Meditation

May 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lily MacKenzie

When I realize that many parts of myself haven’t reached consciousness or been fully realized, it’s like saying goodbye to aborted children. The tragedy? There aren’t enough years ahead of me where I can accomplish what I haven’t done so far, making me a kind of Medea.

***

She visited me recently. Her two dead sons were not trailing behind, seeking revenge. And Jason was nowhere to be seen.

Medea herself seemed redeemed, her face unlined, a calm serenity in her manner. She wore a stylish red dress trimmed with floral piping. Her shapely body reminded me of full-bodied Italian women. She seemed built not just to give life but also to enjoy it. Her black hair coiled around her neck, a mysterious river that beckoned.

If I were to take off on that river, what would I find at the end? A heart of stone? A pyramid of possibilities? A woman who had used her power in the only way she could?

***

When I saw Euripides’ play “Medea” many years ago, I was already in her spell. Her myth resonated for me as it still does for many women. She is our Medea, our savior. A woman unafraid of accepting her power and acting on it as necessary. One of Lilith’s symbolic daughters.

***

According to legend,

Adam tried to make Lilith lie beneath him during sexual intercourse. Lilith would not meet this demand of male dominance. She cursed Adam and hurried to her home by the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, who then sent three angels, Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf, to bring Lilith back to Eden. Lilith rebuffed the angels by cursing them. While by the Red Sea, Lilith became a lover to demons and produced 100 babies a day. The angels said that God would take these demon children away from her unless she returned to Adam. When she did not return, she was punished accordingly. And God also gave Adam the docile Eve. (Encyclopedia Mythica)

I talked to my sister this morning, and we reminisced about our mother who died when she was 101, trying to focus on her positive attributes: the insatiable zest for life; the curiosity and willingness to travel well into her 90s; the compassion for those in need; the ability to somehow communicate her love while also abandoning us at times.

We mothers are all Medeas in some way, wounding and even killing parts of our children. Sometimes we destroy the whole child, forced into this behavior by our own limited lives, constrained either by the culture we grew up in, by our families, or by all of the above.

My grandmother was one of those women. She left Portree, Isle of Skye, after WWI ended to join her husband, a Scottish schoolmaster, in Canada. He fled to the new world before the war to find a better life for all of them. Seven years later, she and the children joined him, arriving in Calgary during a snowstorm.

To go from the warmth of the family womb in Portree (uncles, aunts, cousins, friends), a charming village, to this frigid climate on the barren prairies, must have been a jolt. Was it revenge at being forced to leave her home that encouraged her to abandon husband and kids after a year and find work for herself with a family in the Mount Royal district? She must have been furious with my grandfather for making her join him. He also was a difficult man, his tongue stinging as much as his slaps. She refused to tolerate his abuse any longer.

In the 1920s, it took guts and daring for a woman to desert her husband and kids. It took even greater nerve to travel to Mexico City with her lover—her employer. Some might claim she had a psychotic break, but I think this interpretation is too clinical. Menopause madness? More plausible. But why do we need to assert a woman is mad or unbalanced if she chooses to leave her kids and an inattentive, abusive husband? Some children drive their parents to drink. Some aren’t lovable. What if she just got fed up with the whole mess and wanted a life for herself before it was too late?

Or did she have a premonition she would die young (four years after she arrived in Mexico) and decided to do as much living as she could in the meantime?

***

And what of the Nigerian girls that have been abducted from their school? What kind of life had they imagined for themselves after books opened doors to them that had previously not existed? Their minds and imaginations no longer could be confined to the rigors of rural life and the demands of women in those societies. They might speak back to the men in their lives and refuse to follow the traditional path. They might find in their hearts a desire to be independent—full human beings.

***

“Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.” Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, 5/11/14

***

The day I dropped out, there was no eclipse of the sun or moon. The color didn’t drain from the expansive prairie sky. No one rushed up to me and shouted, “You’re making a serious mistake you’ll later regret.” At the beginning of Grade Eleven, during mid-November snow flurries, I fled Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School. No more three-mile treks each way in sub-zero temps. No more rising at dawn and shivering through the morning rituals of dressing, eating, and fighting with my two younger brothers before leaving the house.

It was 1955, and I had my first taste of freedom.

Okay. Stepfathers are easy targets. Mine was no exception. But he earned my spleen. He had made it clear for some time that women didn’t need an education. He pointed out that he only completed the eighth grade, claiming an education was wasted on a girl who would just get married and have kids. I believed him. Heaven forbid that kids might have mothers who could read, write, and converse beyond a few grunts at the dinner table.

I was too young and naïve to realize that his lack of higher education locked him into a laborer’s life, first as a farmer and then as a rock crusher at the local rock-crushing plant. On some nights, he came home so exhausted he couldn’t eat dinner. He crashed on the floor, later arousing himself long enough to crawl into bed and do it again the next day. That should have set off rockets in my mind, signaling his life lacked something.

It didn’t.

Not then.

It seemed normal to live a proscribed life.

And Mother’s response to me dropping out of school? She had dropped out herself, though not from school. A few weeks earlier, she had fled to the Coast—Vancouver—to join her lover. Would she have wanted me to continue school? Theoretically, yes. She believed in girls being educated, though she didn’t go beyond high school herself. So did her father, my grandfather, a schoolmaster before he left Scotland for Canada in the early 1900s. But neither was around then to cause me to reconsider.

After Mum left, I had the crazy idea that my two younger brothers needed me at home to cook and clean and iron. I had some noble Florence Nightingale image of myself caring for the needy, not realizing I also was deprived. I would devote myself to my brothers and stepfather, using them as an excuse for dropping out. Stepping into the caretaker role assuaged my guilt for letting myself down and pre-empting a future.

My sister, six years older than I, may have tried to dissuade me from jumping off the deep end. But there was a wide gulf between us at that point. We had shared a bedroom until she married when I was thirteen. I not only stole money out of her hope chest, but I also borrowed her clothes without asking and returned them to the closet soiled. This behavior didn’t endear me to her. She wanted me out of her hair. She also was deeply involved in her own life by then, working as a secretary for an oil company while her husband articled as an accountant through a correspondence course.

For all of my good intentions, I wasn’t ready to become an instant mother, another example of letting myself down—and others. I struggled each morning to drag myself out of bed. Actually, it was a struggle just to wake up. My immediate impulse was to silence the alarm, plant the pillow over my head, and go back to sleep.

Sometimes I did just that, not wanting the responsibility for waking my brothers, making their breakfast, packing a lunch for each, and sending them off to school. Quickly my justification for quitting school was dissolving. So was the notion I had of rescuing my stepfather and brothers. I failed yet again. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, motherhood

How To Talk To Your Mother

May 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amanda Prager

How To Talk To Your Mother

  1. You forget your old address.
  1. She cries at the door, she cries in the car, she cries when you step foot on campus. You cry too – two parts sad, one part relief. She drove like crazy and when you finally arrive, you throw up. In between lemonade and half-chewn corndogs – here, living proof that you exist.
  1. Hips and thighs appear, curved like silver spoons. You have your mother’s breasts. You google ‘orgasm’. You practice screaming. You plunder your mother’s books – not the ones on the main shelf, but the ones under her bed. They are all about sailors and firemen. It doesn’t do anything for you.
  1. The boy markets the slash on his neck as a hickey. People taunt and ask prying questions. Mother looks pleased and another queer expression that you have never seen before. You go away to Florida to Father and you remember that forgetting is the human condition.
  1. A boy asks you out on a date. Immediately, you are suspicious – you start wearing thongs. He takes you to sushi, to ice cream, to his car. He takes you in and you take him out. Apologize. He looks as angry as the red mark on his neck. Apologize.
  1. All adults have a rulebook they will pass along to you when you become one of them. Many encyclopedias with chapters like Don’t Spit Your Food and How to Write a Check are in them, along with How to Make Small Talk with Relatives and Where, Exactly, You Get Hair.
  1. In Sunday School, you learn how to shrink yourself. They teach you how to Sit Proper, Don’t Slouch. The next day you steal your mother’s heels. You pretend to be interested in them. She pretends to be angry about it.

Continue Reading…

Alcoholism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

Remnants Of A Mother

April 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janine Canty

When he was brand new  and still fell asleep to the sound of my heartbeat, he had this quilt. It was red and black and green. It had cows on it. It had been hand stitched by a librarian from Texas. He lost his umbilical cord stump on it. It bunched up under his dimpled knees while he learned to crawl. He peed on it and cried into it. Threw up strained bananas on it. I laundered it daily with Dreft in a stainless steel sink. He spilled chocolate milk on it and dragged it through the mud. The way little boys do. He laid on top of it when he had mono. He left fever sweat across a cows face. He kept a corner of it pressed against  his cheek while he watched “Toy Story” and listened to his father slam me into a kitchen wall. I rescued it from the dogs mouth. I wrapped his sturdy little body in it when he ran through the house in nothing but his Scooby Doo underwear. I tucked it around his restless toddler feet at 1 am.

He loved that quilt into pieces while the world around him exploded with noise and cracked plaster.  I packed the pieces away  carefully just after his 5th birthday. They still smelled slightly like his hair and my Charlie perfume. He was our final baby. My last belief in something good. Conceived in a Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom, during a “cops” rerun. Summer rain hitting the windowsill. The dude next door whistling for his rottweiler. Chicken thawing on a kitchen counter. Sometime right before his 7th birthday, he found the pieces of that quilt in the bottom of a drawer. He was having nightmares with only his 14 year old sister to come in the middle of the night to comfort him. She poured his cereal. She washed his clothes. She did everything she could do. Everything in her tiny teenage power, while she sneaked smokes out a  laundry room  window before school. He loved her desperately. Clung to her like heated saran wrap. She didn’t smell like me. Sound like me. She wasn’t his version of a mother. She was what was left. Till he pulled remnants of a mother out of that drawer. Smelling his infant self. My perfume. Our moments together. Story and bath time. Chocolate and canned green beans. His tears and my warm skin. All of it woven into those worn pieces of cloth. He pulled those pieces out of the drawer. Began carrying them around with him. Falling asleep with them. While 40 minutes away I woke up screaming his name. My arms and heart useless entities. Broken, empty, ugly things. He carried the pieces around until they wore away to strings. He carried his dream of a mother until his father came across them. Screaming hot spittle and rage into his face. Calling him a faggot. Breaking his final belief in something good.

***

I signed him away with shaking cold hands and a leaky blue pen. The legal aid lawyer with  the big boobs and popping buttons tried to talk me out of it. “You can have him”, She kept saying, like he was a trinket, a toy. “I don’t want him,” I replied in my court dress and tight pantyhose. “Not if getting him means destroying him.”

I took my frozen-self back out into a different world. The one where I wasn’t a Mom on a daily basis. Living in those early days didn’t mean feeling the sun on my face, or laughing in the shower.  It meant combing my hair and eating food I didn’t want. Standing in line at Wal-Mart and smiling at someone else’s child. Walking to work when all I wanted to do was lay in the dark. With five comforters piled on me.  Sweating and screaming. The kind of screaming that rips the throat and rattles the teeth. I wanted an oblivion. A blank space I could fill with the smells and sounds and feel of my children.  A place where I could be their mother. A place where they never had to see my bruises.  They say grief’s color is blue. This grief wasn’t blue. Blue is calm. This grief was a bright red. Loud and in my face. It was an endless thing with jagged edges. Blood and glass. Coating my soul like cotton candy.

I’m a good mother. I’m a good person. I didn’t deserve this. They didn’t deserve this. I didn’t cause this. The counselor told me to repeat it until I believed it. She said I could even say it in my head. But I said it out loud. I said it until my tongue was numb with it. Until the words didn’t feel like hostile strangers on a Boston subway. Until I could smile at other people’s children and mean it. I repeated the words when I woke up at 4:01 am with my nightgown twisted and stuck to my back with sweat. When I had to turn on every light in the house to chase away the jagged edges of grief.  It takes a lot of work to undo a lie you’ve been sold marinated in cruelty.  A lot of patience to love yourself, when you’re all you have left.

***

They found him this morning. Curled up in his leather jacket. On the cold ground. Beside the swimming pool in the back yard. Next to a pile of brown melting snow. A scowl on his beautiful face. An eight dollar bottle of whiskey clutched to his chest. Next to his scars. Where a surgeon cut into him. Breaking his ribs to insert a metal rod. Trying to protect his heart. The one that had already been broken.

They found him this morning. In a pretty suburban backyard. Three hundred feet from where his father and I began. On a suburban dead end street. Where the bay windows shine and the white curtains from Macy’s hide the unsavory stains. Where the horrible and unspeakable things are things that happen to someone else’s family.

They found him this morning. My little boy. My baby. My final belief in something good. In the fetal position with that damn whiskey. Vomit in the thick hair he inherited from me. Still drunk at 9:46 am on Easter morning.

He was slapped into consciousness  over a plateful of stale cinnamon rolls. His father poured  the last of the whiskey down a bathroom drain and felt like a hero.

He’s going to be 21 on Saturday. Old enough to legally drink himself to death. To ruin his beautiful body and puke away his potential with a little help from Jack Daniel’s.

One older brother dying a slow, dirty death, from pancreatitis. The other believing he can fly. He can be something better. Something prettier, with the help of a little ecstasy and a 21 year old hooker he meets at a Comfort Inn. A sister with a baby of her own and an unemployed husband old enough to be the father she still craves. A mother who still wakes up screaming his name, all their names, on the bad nights. All of us as broken, as worn, as those pieces of my youngest sons quilt. His remnants of a mother.
Janine Canty is a self proclaimed word geek. She has been writing on and off for 39 years. Her work has previously appeared at Sweatpants and Coffee as well as The Manifest Station. She is a semi regular contributor to The Weeklings. She lives in Northern Maine, where she unmasks the world, one essay at a time. She can be found on Facebook. She attended Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s writing/yoga retreat in Vermont.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, motherhood

Jen Pastiloff, Christy Turlington Burns & Every Mother Counts Give Back This Mother’s Day.

April 22, 2015

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Do good for yourself, while helping us improve maternal health. Join me over Mother’s Day weekend, May 8-10th, for a 3 day retreat in Ojai, CA, where a portion of proceeds will benefit Christy Turlington’s Every Mother Counts. Please mention the organization when booking. Click here to sign up or email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

They inform, engage, and mobilize new audiences to take actions and raise funds that support maternal health programs around the world.

To join in this retreat you do Not have to be a mother. Just be a human being with a heart. No yoga experience required although there will be some yoga within the workshops.

I am so excited to support my friend Christy and EMC!

Christy Turlington Burns is a mother, social entrepreneur, model, and founder of Every Mother Counts. Having endured a childbirth complication herself, Christy was compelled to direct and produce the documentary, No Woman, No Cry about maternal health challenges that impact the lives of millions of girls and women around the world. As a result of her global advocacy work she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014, Glamour Magazine’s Woman of The Year in 2013, and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative Minds in 2013. Prior to her work as a global maternal health advocate, Christy enjoyed a successful career as a model while continuing her education and pursuing other interests. She has co-created public health communications campaigns about smoking cessation and prevention since 1997 and launched an award-winning website, SmokingIsUgly.com. Christy is also the author of Living Yoga: Creating A Life Practice (Hyperion 2002) and has written countless articles, essays and op-eds for magazines and newspapers on the subjects of wellness, maternal health, feminism, poverty eradication and human rights. Christy is a member of the Harvard Medical School Global Health Council, an advisor to the Harvard School of Public Health Board of Dean’s Advisors and on the advisory Board of New York University’s Nursing School. She holds a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies and has studied Public Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. A three-time marathon finisher, Christy resides in New York City where she lives with her husband, filmmaker Edward Burns, and their two children.

ps, Christy is running the London Marathon this coming weekend on 4/26 to raise funds and awareness about the fact that thousands of women and girls still live too far away from the care and supplies needed to ensure safe motherhood. You can check it out here. 

I love you , Christy!

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Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

Words Lost and Found

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Margaret Finnegan

She was in the tub singing Christmas carols. Mid-verse, she stopped. I said, “Are you okay?” She didn’t answer, and I knew then that everything had fallen apart. That after seven years seizure-free, my twelve-year-old daughter, Sia, was having a seizure. But what I didn’t know was that at that moment we were losing her, or, rather, we were losing the essence of her. And it wasn’t to the epilepsy. No. It was to the drug that was supposed to help her.

I should make it clear that I am a big believer in western medicine. I believe in vaccinations and mammograms and pills of all sizes and shapes. But this I know, when it comes to controlling seizures, everything is guesswork: Here, take this yellow pill. No luck? Add the blue pill. Still no luck? How about the white pill? Which leads me to Topamax, a little white pill about the size of one of your smaller baby teeth.

Topamax is an anti-convulsant, and it’s sometimes called dopamax because it makes you stupid, which is why no one starts your kid on Topamax right away. They wait until a bunch of other medications prove ineffective and then they prescribe Topamax. By the time Sia was prescribed Topamax two years after that day I found her in the tub, she had gone from being a spunky if quirky girl to a monster of fear. She was afraid to bathe because of the tub incident. She would say she had showered when she had only gotten her hair wet, and when she got to school her hair would dry into oily ribbons, and on her face she would wear a look of abject terror, and if anyone would talk to her she would tell them how scared she was that she might have a seizure. Of course, those are all excellent ways to drive away friends and to mark yourself as the sick, weak wildebeest of the middle school savanna. Kids she didn’t even know would follow her in the halls and yell, “seizure, seizure, seizure.” Whenever a teacher left the room, boys would turn the classroom lights on and off, knowing full well–because she told them–that flashing lights could actually cause her to have a seizure.

When you are watching your child fall deep into the rabbit hole of victimization and anxiety and depression and friendlessness and hopelessness and seizures, you eventually reach a place where you start to say, “You know what we should do? We should totally remove half her brain,” because that is a treatment for epilepsy. Neurosurgeons remove the part of the brain where the seizures originate and oftentimes that will stop the seizures. But Sia was not a good candidate for brain surgery so instead we continued her on a horrible cocktail of drugs that included the stupid pill, Topamax. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood, Pregnancy

Letter To My Fifteen Year Old Self: For Every Pregnant Teen Who Feels Alone.

April 4, 2015

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By Alma Luz Villanueva.

(For every pregnant teen who thinks, feels, she’s alone.)

San Francisco, the Mission Barrio, 1960-

I see you standing at the very edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness. The garden below. Where the roses are blooming. Your step (real) father, Whitey, tends these roses. Your mother doesn’t believe in roses. You lean into that darkness. No fear. Not really. You were the tomgirl who jumped/leaped roof to roof to avoid the streets for blocks. And just for fun. The thrill shot through your body. You leaned. You leaped. Sometimes barely making it. Barely landing. Fear. Then laughter. Your tomgirl pal following you. Roof to roof. San Francisco, the Mission. Your childhood city.

Why are you leaning at the edge of the rooftop, gazing down into the darkness? The roses blooming. No scent from the edge, but you can see the blood red petals shadowed in moonlight. Some are fully blossomed, ready to shed their beauty. To touch the earth. Die, transform. Some are tight, baby blossoms; tiny slivers of blood red barely revealed. Still in the womb. They sing their whisper song of blood red. Beauty.

You’re pregnant at 15, gazing into darkness. Listening to the songs of the blossomed roses, and the whisper songs of the baby bud roses. Still in the womb. You’re pregnant at 15, alone, at the edge. Leaning. Into the darkness.

Stars pulsing overhead. Some brighter than others. Alive with light. Your favorite place. The roof. View of the city lights. Silence. You sit down at the edge, letting your feet dangle. Night breeze on your sweaty face. You wishing, suddenly, that you still passed as a boy on the city streets. Your night time visits to Dolores Park, sitting high in the pepper trees. The Bay Bridge a shiny necklace across the dark water. A few times you had to run for it when a pervert spotted you, perched so high and happy. Sometimes you sang the old Baptist church song, “I have a joy joy joy joy down in my heart…” And sometimes you sang parts of “Canta, No Llores…Sing, Don’t cry,” the parts you remembered that Mamacita knew by heart. You whisper sing those parts now, your sandaled feet dangling over the edge. And you smile because you see Mamacita, so clearly, in the alive stars, lifting her long skirt. Dancing. You join her, dancing.

You remember the morning ritual of sharing dreams, the hot chocolate, cinnamon on top, steaming your face. You almost always woke up to Mamacita praying, singing to the Child Sun in Yaqui. Her rattle. Tears and joy in that strange, beautiful language you never learned. But you loved to hear. She told you it was a song to El Niño Sol, to be born safely every dawn. You thought if Mamacita didn’t sing that song every morning, there would be only darkness. Night. No Child Sun. Birth. Dawn.

You didn’t know what birth was, being born. Except your mother, Lydia, once told you she almost pulled a sink out of the wall, in the hospital, when you were born. That it hurt like hell, that’s what she said. You asked Mamacita once, “Does it hurt the Child Sun’s Mamå when he’s born?” She laughed, “Every birth has pain, niña, but when la Mamå Tierra gets to hold her child, el regalo de luz…the gift of light, that warm little body, she laughs. Now, tell me your dream, mi Alma.” (All conversation in Spanish, Mamacita never spoke English.)

You would tell her your four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old dreams, and she would tell you hers. When you were six you told Mamacita you kept falling in your dream. She gently, then firmly, touched your shoulder blades, left and right, massaging them.

“These are your wings, niña. When you begin to fall in your dream, remember them, where they are. Right here.” Left and right, massaging each one firmly. Gently. “When you begin to fall, remember your wings, open them wide.” She’d spread her arms wide, smiling, her eyes on fire. “You’re ready to fly, niña, remember, open your wings wide. Your wings. Right here.” Left and right, each one.

You remember stealing your first bike as the pre-dawn wind begins to chill you on the rooftop. You lay on your back, the old blanket you hide up there under you. Some of it covering you as you gaze at the brightest star, so alive with light. You don’t know the star’s name- Venus, Quetzalcoatl. Years later you would call this pre-dawn, dancing with light, star by name. This night you remember seeing a brand new bike lying on the street by itself. You were eleven. You walked by the bike twice. No one claimed it, so you did. Riding to Golden Gate Park with your tomgirl amiga, sometimes alone (instead of boring school); riding down the final hills to the so green forest entrance, the scent of green, felt like flying. The magical fern forest, as tall as trees, the sun barely peeked through. Damp earth. The tall fern trees, large flowering plants beneath them. Large purple flowers, the size of a baby’s head, always made you laugh. And when the fairies welcomed you- their small, tinkling voices- you knew you were safe. If they didn’t, you rode away as fast as you could. Flying to safety.

You woke up one morning- your first flying dream- the large mirror over the bed you shared with Mamacita. She was singing to the Child Sun. You stood up and looked down at the bed and saw your self sleeping. You felt so sorry for her, that she had a to be in a body, that you knew how to fly and didn’t need her body. In fact, at that moment, her body disgusted you. You didn’t want to return. You looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize your six year old face. What scared you back to life. Back into your sleeping, dreaming (flying) girl body.

When you told Mamacita your first flying dream, she made you cafécito con leche with still warm pan dulce from the store down the street. But you never told her about the girl in the mirror that didn’t need a body- who returned to live. Your life. Who saw your life and stayed. You sipped your cafécito con leche and ate two fresh pan dulces, celebrating your first flight. At six. With Mamacita.

***

You wake up to warmth on your face. The Child Sun licking you with warmth. The bright star fading. You sit up, facing the Child Sun and begin to sing your own song to his birth. And the baby bud roses join you. Still in the womb. You’ll wait for your mother to leave for work, taking your baby brother to his sitter. Then you’ll go downstairs to Whitey’s house (your step/real father), use your key to enter. Fix hot chocolate with cinnamon on top in his clean kitchen Some toast with jam. Go down into the garden to pick some blossoming roses, leaving the baby bud roses to dream. Still in the womb.

(The Birth)

“I can’t marry you. My parents say you’ll have ten kids in ten years.” The boy is crying as you both walk to your favorite restaurant where no one goes. For tea, coffee, a piece of pie. Sometimes the dinner special. He pays. He has two parents and their house is always clean. You go there once. His parents are white and their eyes say, Dirty Mexican. Sometimes you and the boy walk clear to the ocean, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, telling sad stories, and funny ones too. He tells you, “My mother used to tie me up in a chair with clothesline and gag me. She made me stay there for hours and sometimes I’d fall asleep. I learned not to cry or scream, just wait. Till she untied me. When I cried and screamed the rope made me bleed. She’d say, ‘Are you ready to behave?’ I’d nod my head yes.”

Then you and the boy take the trolley back to the Mission, from the ocean. Home. Promising to meet at the corner of 16th and Guerrero. Then one time he doesn’t come. You see him at school and he turns away, his friends laughing. Years later you find out that the word Guerrero means warrior.

Your mother, Lydia, tells a neighbor, “She didn’t want to marry him.” The neighbor smiles kindly into your eyes, “Only the good girls get caught, honey.”

You’re two weeks overdue. The doctor at St Mary’s Clinic, just three blocks from your place, tells you, “It looks like your baby’s small, so that’s okay. Plus, you’re just a kid yourself,” kind smile. But the nuns hate you. They can barely contain their contempt. An unmarried fifteen year old, pregnant, about to give birth in their Catholic hospital. The nuns want you to give your baby up for adoption. They bring in a different nun each time after the kind doctor leaves.

“How do you plan to take care of this baby, child?” Thin lips, contempt. Eyes hard, trying to kill you. You hate them back, refuse to cry. Guerrero, warrior.

“You’re going to suffer for this sin and your baby too. Do you want this for your baby?” You just smile and they finally leave you alone. You also give them los ojos de bruja…the witch eyes. The eyes you’d give to the old church ladies when they’d call you gringita and you knew they went home and broke an egg over their head for protection. You pictured the nuns breaking an egg over their bald heads, and you had to keep yourself from laughing. Guerrero, warrior.

The pains begin around your belly, and your best friend, Judy, is there at your mother’s place. Whitey cooks you special food so the baby will be healthy, and you go upstairs to his place to eat. You also bring your baby brother, John. It’s always clean, some music playing softly, his voice, “Ya look pretty damn good, kid, must be the food so chow down, and your favorite dessert, cherry cake. Hope that baby likes cherry cake, kid,” he laughs.

You’ve been taking care of John, cleaning the apartment, cooking breakfast and lunch. Dinner at Whitey’s. You even go to open house at John’s school, and a field trip to the zoo. When you and John enter the Lion House, just as they’re feeding them, and they begin to ROAR so your bones rattle, he begins to cry. Scream. You pick him up and run for it, like fuck those lions, caged. Their only moment to pretend they hunted, killed that raw mound of meat they’re devouring. That roar. John clings to you, safety. Fuck those sad assed lions.

The pains get worse, so Lydia brings you a ‘screwdriver,’ she calls it, and one for Judy. Orange juice with something funny in it, but it tastes pretty good. You have two. Judy barely finishes hers. You, Judy and Lydia walk the three blocks to Saint Mary’s, joking and laughing all the way. Even the pain is funny (still). John’s with Whitey- “I’ll be up ta see ya, kid, and don’t you worry, women been having babies for-ever!” You think of the baby, the tiny rosebud, trying to be born. Come out of you. You felt her move just once, but clearly, from one side of your stomach to the other. Her foot, that bump. You dreamt her, so you know, her. Her name, Antoinette Therese. You want her to be a queen. You tell no one about the dream, especially the nuns. If Mamacita were alive, you’d tell her of course. But you know Mamacita knows everything anyway. You heard her voice deep in your right ear. Guerrero, warrior, “No te dejas, niña.” She’d toss you out the door when you’d come in crying, to take care of yourself. Fight back. La vida. Guerrero, warrior.

The nuns are shocked, your laughing face. They take you to a room, all by yourself, and leave you there. There’s a window to the street. Guerrero Street. Some trees. You push the window open. Wind. The birds are singing to the Child Sun grown old, tired. Stretches of blood-red-violet. Mamacita had a song for the Child Sun grown old, tired. You hear her voice, the rattle, but not the words. The pain in your belly comes and goes, making you double over and moan. You begin to walk the room between pains and it helps. You’re still a little dizzy from the orange juice drink but fading- no one to talk to, joke with.

You remember how Mamacita floated you when you were sick, so you focus on the fluttering leaves, the sound of the wind, and begin to sing softly- “Old Child Sun, don’t be afraid, go to sleep, dream, in the morning you’ll be born again, Child Sun, don’t be afraid.” Then you double over with the pain but keep floating like the wind, straighten up to breathe the fluttering leaves and walk the room. “Don’t be afraid, old Child Sun, don’t be afraid…”

The door opens. “You should be lying down, not walking around, what are you doing!” the nun shouts. She shuts the window, hard, and leaves.

You get up and open the window, begin to walk again. The pain is like dying lying down, and you’re all alone, but not really. There’s the wind, the trees, the birds still singing, and Mamacita’s rattle filling the room. Her voice. Flotating.

The nun returns, her face full of hate. “I thought you’d be up again, you people!” And you know she means Mexicans, you people. She’s very white, she’ll never have a baby, she thinks God loves her better than you, a fifteen year old girl giving birth, alone. You hate her back, don’t cry. And you think of the baby Jesus born in a manger, his parents poor and wandering. The story goes in the Baptist Church. And you always loved the baby Jesus, and you think of his mother, Mary, giving birth in the cold ass manger surrounded by stinky farm animals. You smile.

The nun slams the window shut, hands you a tiny paper cup. “Here, take these, it’ll make you sleep, it’s bad for you to be walking around like a wild animal.” Face of disgust, hate.

You give her your best malo ojos de bruja and think, sleep. The room is dark, a thin light from the bathroom. Sleep.

You wake up to such pain you scream once, catch yourself and begin to moan. You can’t help it. You wonder how this baby, your daughter you’ve dreamt, is going to come out of you. At this moment it feels like she’s killing you, and, again, how will she come out, you wonder as you moan, the killing pain the killing pain the killing pain…

(Fast forward)

Years later this 5lb 4oz daughter, Antoinette, as Head Nurse Critical Care, will come upon a fifteen year old girl on her rounds, giving birth all alone, screaming. They can’t sedate her. She fights them off. My daughter, to the doctor’s shock, climbs into bed with her, behind her, wrapping her arms around her, telling her, “Breathe, breathe, I’m here with you, you’re not alone, breathe…” The doctor orders her out of the bed. She tells him, “I’m Head Nurse, Dr_____, and you can fuck off!” The birthing girl laughs, relaxes, and gives birth, screaming as the crowning begins, while my daughter holds her tight. “Breathe, breathe, now push…” Later as the girl holds her daughter, she tells her, “My mother was your age when she had me, and you’re going to be fine. You’re a fighter like my Mom, so you and your daughter will be just fine.”

Saddle block. Numb from waist down. They wheel you into a bright, white room. “Turn the mirror, she shouldn’t watch this.” The birth. Your daughter. You’re too young to insist, “I want to watch.” You finally see the doctor holding up a blue baby by her ankles. You felt nothing. Where she came out of. But there she is and she begins to cry, a thin wail. Her tiny body pulsing pink, alive. Later on, your Tia Ruth tells you Antoinette was born on Mamacita’s birth day. A sliver of Mamacita’s spirit, la curandera, the healer, this daughter.

You begin to cry. You want to hold her, but you’re too young to insist. They take her away. He stitches you up. No one speaks to you except for the doctor, once. “Are you glad it’s a girl?” He tries to be kind, but his voice conveys duty. Not the same one you saw in the clinic, whose hand felt warm on your shoulder, kind.

You nod your head yes. The nurse nun says, “She refuses to speak, doctor, don’t waste your breath.” She wheels you into a room with other mothers and she asks, “Do you plan to breastfeed?” Your mind whirls, breast feed, as in how in the fuck do you do that?

“No,” the word comes out of you.

Look of disgust, the usual hate. She returns and wraps thick bandages around your still-girl breasts. “So your milk dries up,” voice cold.

They promise to bring your daughter the next morning- the Child Sun’s warmth filling the room- you’ve been waiting for hours. One nurse nun said she was bringing your daughter right away, but it’s been hours. You finally insist, “I want to see my daughter.” The woman next to you says, “They promised to bring her baby a couple of hours ago. I’ve already held my baby many times.”

“You’re breastfeeding,” the nurse nun says, warmly. Warmly. The woman is older and white, and she later tells you this is her sixth baby, that she’s Catholic. And she asks, “Are you going to keep your baby, hon?”

She’s so tiny, your daughter. You open the blanket. The wonder of her perfect body. She’s perfect, her so tiny, pink rose toes. Her perfect, translucent hands, each delicate finger. There’s a wound on her belly button, still bloody. You open her diaper- a girl a girl a girl.

A young nurse nun brings a bottle of milk- you’ve never seen her before. “What’s her name?” she asks, handing you the bottle.

“Antoinette.”

“What a beautiful name for a beautiful baby,” she smiles. “A friend is here to see you, so when you finish feeding Antoinette I’ll let her in.”

“Thank you,” you smile into the young nun’s kindness. Sweet face. She’s probably eight years older than you, her twenties, you realize, and you wonder if she’ll become a nasty ass nun when she’s older.

As you feed your daughter, your breasts begin to ache under the tight bandages. It would be this way for the next four days, as they change the wet, sticky bandages. The young nun nurse changes them twice, each time tears come to her eyes. She bathes your girl-breasts in warm, soapy water- the other nurse nuns with cold, soapy water- and she strokes your hair.

Your mother, Lydia, finally comes on the third day after work. “You’re a mother now,” she says coldly. Just those words.

***

A week later, when your daughter’s wound on the belly button falls off, you think she’s falling apart. You bundle her up and run to St Marys crying. The kind doctor explains, “That’s where the cord was between you and your daughter when she was inside of you. That’s how you fed her, that cord. She doesn’t need it anymore, so it fell off. Now you feed her without the cord, isn’t that right?” He touches your shoulder, that warmth.

You stop crying, nod yes, and walk back to your mother’s place, holding your daughter tightly. So you don’t drop her, ever.

*

Your daughter would have colic and cry/scream for a long time after you fed her, every hour or so, in the beginning. You found that laying her on your chest, your heart, she’d fall asleep, and so would you.

One night, she was in her bassinet- the one you decorated with lace and ribbons (yes, you stole them from the five and dime store). You woke up to Lydia’s voice yelling, “SHUT UP SHUT UP!” She was shaking the bassinet, hard, yelling. You were up in one movement, throwing Lydia against the wall- you’d not ever touched her this way.

“If you ever touch my baby again I’ll kill you!” you screamed. You picked up the bassinet with crying Antoinette, taking her to the front room with the sad assed couch. Brought your blankets and slept on the sad assed couch with her on your chest, your heart.

The next morning the cops came. She told them you threatened to kill her. You told them why, crying- your baby, your daughter, barely a month old. Both cops looked at you with pity, telling your mother, Lydia, to work things out and left. She banged things around; it was Saturday, no work. She didn’t touch the bassinet, but she banged things so loudly your daughter woke up crying.

You took your daughter, your baby brother, up to Whitey’s place. He fixed you all a pancake breakfast with bacon. “You could live here for awhile, kid, I’ll take the couch. There’s no talkin’ to that woman, I know.”

You tell him what happened, why you threw her up against the wall. His face goes red. With anger. “Yeah, you and that baby stay here till we can work something out, maybe your own place.”

You’d go to welfare, holding your daughter tight. You’d stay at Whitey’s for a while, taking care of John, but not going into Lydia’s place. You’d never return to her place again, to live. To trust her. She was your birth mother, that’s all. She was not Mamacita.

When you finally got your own place with a roommate, one year older- she worked as a waitress and she was Mexican like you. You stopped taking care of your baby brother- and that broke your heart, but you couldn’t be your baby’s mother and his at the same time. She would yell, “Shut up!” when he cried and forget he was just hungry. You told Whitey to make sure John ate, especially dinner.

“Don’t you worry none, kid, I’ll be on it.”

“Even when you drink cause I’m coming back to check on stuff.”

“Dinner’ll be ready every night, so you and John eat here, you understand, Pocahontas.” This made you smile, your old name. “I’ll make sure things are okay before I get friendly with Jack Daniels, don’t you worry, Pocahontas.”

Whitey would pay your part of the rent and bring groceries every Saturday when he wasn’t being friendly with Jack Daniels. And when he and Jack got together, he made sure to bring you money before he did. And he’d bring your baby brother, John, leaving him for the day. Your daughter in a stroller, your brother in a swing, laughing. Hamburgers, fries and a milkshake later with the $20 Whitey gave you. Later, he’d give you $60 more for the week.

You don’t tell your roommate, Jeannie, about the Child Sun. She wouldn’t understand. She lived in an awful foster home and ran away. She tells you she was beaten with a belt all the time and shows you the scars, and you cry with her. And sometimes you have to throw out some guys she’s drinking with, and you know you have to move again. One of them grabs you by the arm and calls you a fucking bitch, and you won’t allow them in the apartment anymore. So now Jeannie’s mad at you too- “So what if he grabbed your arm, what are you a princess?” Her scars. The one on her face from the belt buckle.

You begin to plan, the edge of things. But not the roof- you don’t want to jump into the darkness. You want to live in the light, the Child Sun, with your daughter. The blossoming bud rose. Antoinette.

Guerrero. Guerrera. Leap into the light.

**This is part of an in-progress memoir.

 

Alma Luz Villanueva is the author of four novels, most recently, ‘Song of the Golden Scorpion.’ Eight books of poetry, most recently, ‘Gracias.’ Many anthologies, textbooks- including ‘The Best Erotic Latin American Writing,’ ‘Califlora, A Literary Field Guide, ‘Prayers for a Thousand Years,’ ‘Fightin’ Words’ (PEN Anthology). Has taught in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles for sixteen years, living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past ten years, returning to teach, visit la familia. almaluz.villanueva@gmail.com   www.almaluzvillanueva.com

 

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Guest Posts, motherhood, Yoga

The Impulse To Breathe

April 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Wendy Fontaine.

As soon as one contraction ended, another began. The pain erupted from beneath my hip bones and a twisting, angry heat spread in all directions: up into my hardened belly, down to my bare legs, and out through my arms to my fingers, which were clenched into fists at my chin.

I asked the midwife, Renata, when I could have something, anything, for the pain. I had always expected that, when the time came, there would be some kind of medication. But labor rarely goes as planned, and in the moment – that wretched, unbearable moment – there was nothing safe for me to take. My baby girl was lying on her umbilical cord, and every time I had a contraction, her body and my body squeezed against the cord in a deadly embrace that pinched her only connection to oxygen. Drugs might have slowed, or even stopped, her natural impulse to breathe on her own once she was born.

Renata held my hand and rubbed my back. She pressed a cool cloth to my forehead, while I wondered if my child would survive. With each spasm, I filled my lungs and exhaled, over and over, like a surfer riding wave after wave.

I had learned how to breathe five years earlier, in a yoga class I signed up for after the World Trade Center towers burned and crumbled before our collective eyes. I had been a newspaper reporter then, writing stories about the people who died and the spouses and children they left behind. Quickly, the stories of loss had all become too much to bear. The images of people jumping from burning skyscrapers had taken my breath away. I wanted to go inward, to shut my eyes for a while. So I found a yoga studio, where the walls were the color of Nantucket hydrangeas and the candles smelled like lavender.

The teacher, Karen, was a petite woman with a soft voice and a graceful manner. She moved deliberately, with more awareness than I had ever seen in one person. Near the front of the studio classroom, I unrolled my mat alongside the other students and sat cross-legged, waiting for something I couldn’t name. Inner peace. Serenity. I didn’t know what.

The first thing Karen showed us was how to slow our breath by matching the lengths of our inhalations and our exhalations. Pranayama, she called it. Controlling the life force. It felt unnatural at first, but after a few moments, breathing seemed more like undulating – smooth and rhythmic, circular and endless. I could feel it and hear it. I could trust it.

I went back every Saturday, settled onto my mat and found that familiar pattern. We moved through the asanas, or poses. Some were challenging; others seemed nearly impossible. Just breathe, Karen reminded us. The trick was to keep a steady breath even when things got tough – when the room was hot, when our muscles were tired, when our minds were telling us to quit. Breathe in and out. Be full, then empty. Take it in and let it go. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood, parenting

Snowstorms, Goodbye to Parenthood and Real Time.

March 12, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser.

Earlier this week, like practically the entire East coast, we awaited the much-hyped soon-to-be storm of the century. By Tuesday morning, we understood much of the snowpocalypse-fearing East Coast received meager amounts, especially against promise of a centennial storm. It made me think about how we aren’t, as a society, geared up for real-time discoveries any longer. We’ve been lulled into the belief that we can and should know pretty much everything ahead of time, thank you every weather app on the planet that renders even the once-worldview-rocking Weather Channel quaint. We egg each other on while water and kale disappears from supermarket shelves. While waiting, we take photos of every empty shelf and flake of snow on our fully charged smart phones.

This mindset is sets the perfect stage for bingewatchers and spoiler alerts, given the fact that we have the chance to watch any show of great or little significance at any time at any pace. Like the kale craze, we can so instantly know locate fingers on the pulse of things and this ability shapes our shared perspective.

This past summer and early fall I fell down the rabbit hole of Weeds years after its fifteen minutes touching cultural zeitgeist. The way I got there was Orange is the New Black, which I tried to like—and failed. Made so anxious from the prison that I couldn’t appreciate the humor or tolerate the drama, I was instead propelled to the book and to Jenji Kohan—thus, Weeds. Once in Little Boxes’ suburbia, I got hooked. I couldn’t quit Mary Louise Parker’s endless flirtation with disaster.

Partway in, I asked a friend who’d watched the entire series whether I was making a mistake. “It’s really good, then it’s really bad and then somewhere in there she kind of steps up and you’re glad you hung in for that shift,” my friend explained. “There’s redemption, eventually.”

The deadline beyond which I could truly spoiler you has long past. My friend’s assessment was correct, although the ending never really mattered. Weeds was more about the ride than the outcome or the meaning—no takeaway message promised and none delivered. Perhaps that’s why for all that time I spent unable to stop watching Weeds’ eight seasons, and unable to stop thinking about Weeds during those weeks I watched—and watched—I haven’t given it more brain space since. Does that render it a negligible binge-watch?

In the midst of my personal Weeds’ obsession, the ballyhooed release of the Gilmore Girls’ oeuvre appeared on Netflix and my sixteen year-old-son, already a huge fan of Lauren Graham’s Sarah Braverman on Parenthood, dove in. No question that Gilmore Girls falls within the Venn diagram of his absolute sweet spot—he loves romanticized dramas about families and relationships and smart, fast dialogue. He reveres Friday Night Lights. His hall-of-fame perennial favorite is The West Wing. Thus, Gilmore Girls surmounted to a predetermined home run.

As it should have been—Gilmore Girls is one of those series that belongs in that realm reserved for cultural icons. How many young women would cite it as their adolescent go-to show? How many mothers and daughters were glued together to GG when their own adhesive to one another experienced the challenges of actual mother-daughter wear and tear? How many of us first hearted Melissa McCarthy in Stars Hollow? Even the Kim Gordon makes a stealth appearance for a little wow/cool factor cameo idea began there. Aaron Sorkin may have provided the initial incarnation of lightning speed dialogue on television. Amy Sherman-Palladino for sure gave him a run for his money, way before Shonda Rhimes took up the female fast talking television mantle.

The jumble of programs with cultural import and ones to watch-because-you-can-and-don’t-stop makes me curious about how cultural junk food, “mid-reputable” TV and stellar series meld into our cultural DNA going forward. For all its frothiness, what stuck from Weeds was the ‘O’ Mary Louise Parker makes around a straw. That masterful sip informed how loveable Lauren Graham, as both Lorelai Gilmore and Sarah Braverman seemed wielding straws.

In real time, my sixteen-year-old son and I got into the habit of curl up on Thursday nights to savor Parenthood’s final season. It finished its run last night—and we are sad. We’ve been sad all season long, because we didn’t want to say goodbye to the Braverman clan, and knew we would have to do so. It’s rare that a program can uphold this much sentimental tenderness and final season ribbon tying. Parenthood could because the characters’ complexities are so well established. Even the broadcast promise of family drama trifecta: wedding, birth, and death managed not to feel like stunts or to disappoint. The takeaway message stayed true to mission: families are bittersweet entourages; when things are hard, sometimes love holds you as you need and when things are happy you hurt at the notion they’d ever get sad again—and you’d lose the joy.

To watch together is new for us. Up until now, we each took in Parenthood on our own schedules and timetables. My son watched week-by-week; I tended to bank a few weeks and then bundle-view numerous installments over a few days. Although we discussed the show, he politely avoided letting spoilers slip. We were very twenty-first century about the whole thing.

For this extended swan song, though, we went old school. Although I’m the only one in a teary puddle by the end of each episode (he misted up by the finale’s end at least), we bonded over each development and mourned our goodbyes to characters we both adore. As anyone who’s ever raised teenagers knows, peaceful time bonding that you can count on is in itself a winning entity, reason enough to love the ritual.

Some might call Parenthood cultural junk food. Whatever—for us, it’s more like emotional-slash-relational superfood. The Braverman clan has afforded us opportunities to discuss families and romantic relationships, autism, aging, and career passions, adolescence and young adulthood comfortably and naturally. Conversations about emotions don’t come easily with him, so this was a pretty rare opportunity. Add to this the fact that the Braverman family, through ups and downs, yelling and screeching, comes through for its members in such strong ways. I really don’t care if that’s idealized; I want to endorse a message as simple as that’s something to strive for—for us. Far from the groovy Bay area, we have our own ups and downs, some big enough, some smaller, but at heart, equally knotted and tangled and well intentioned.

That real time viewership prompts gems like actual, rich conversation with your sixteen year-old-son is why I hope the phenomenon is here to stay, even in the age of abundant binge-ability. Like the purported snowstorm we dodged; for all the anticipation, ultimately, it’s refreshing to take it as it comes and watch the flakes cascade. Storm of the century or not, you can still eat your kale.

 

Sarah’s work has appeared in the NYT, Washington Post, Brain Child, Full Grown People, Dame and The Manifest-Station recently. She lives in Western Massachusetts, where the snow flies, and flies.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. Space is limited.This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. Space is limited.This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Guest Posts, motherhood

Happily Ever After.

March 5, 2015

 

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By Ginger M. Sullivan.

Long before we ever have children, we have fantasies of what they will be like. When I was a childless twenty-something, my future daughter was unencumbered. She could choose her heart’s desire. At full range.  Unlike me, she would not have to fight to be her true self.  As part of the first female generation in my family line to not follow a traditional course, I had crossed the threshold.  I had broken the glass ceiling.  College beyond the Mason-Dixon line, a respectable intellectually-based career with my own salary, athletic accomplishments written up in the newspaper – these were now possibilities for my daughter, as opposed to being oddities for me.  My daughter could bask in the endless possibilities I had hard-won.  She wouldn’t have to like pink.  She could run and play without stopping to always be the nurturing one.  She could discover her talents without the risk of disappointing the holders of the mold of “what a girl should be.”  She would be free to explore all of who she is without the subtle and not-so-subtle messages of limitation.  The world was her oyster and I was happy to be the beacon of such opportunity for her.

Or so I thought.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

 

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Guest Posts, motherhood, Race/Racism

Warnings For My Sons.

February 24, 2015

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By Seema Reza.

The first time I read about the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy shot by Cleveland police for waving a toy gun at a playground, I tell my sons, eight and fourteen, to pause the television. We are watching a show called Once Upon a Time, based on fairy tale characters who are dealing with the ultimate curse: reality. I read them the whole article, word for word, from the link I clicked on my Facebook feed. I read them Tamir Rice’s father’s words, “He didn’t know what he was doing. He was only twelve.”

They pay attention to my words in the way they do only when I am telling them something in this tone of voice–a voice I cannot fake–the scared quivering that sounds like a squint. We are cramped on the couch in the apartment we moved to when I left their father, our legs piled on top of one another. The television is paused on one or another fair-skinned, flowing-haired heroine. On this show, every rescue emerges from doing the easily identified right thing, every curse is broken by the everlasting magic of true love.   Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, parenting

You’ve Got it All Backwards.

January 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sarah Kurliand.

The other day I was driving to the Franklin Institute with my 3 ½ year old son, X. Our windows were down to let in the crisp, fresh air per his request. As I slowed to stop at the corner, I noticed an older man standing there. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled, as I do to everyone. And he went on, “Heyyyy guuuurl. How you doin? You lookin’ mighty beautiful today” , and I went on my way. In total, it lasted about 5 seconds.

I looked in my rear view mirror at my beautiful son, as I waited for the questions to come flooding in. I racked my brain thinking of interesting ways to spin this so he could understand it. I could see his wheels turning… 

X: Ma, who was that man? Why he say ‘Hey gurl’ like that? You know him?

Me: I don’t know who that man was X.

X: Then why he call you beautiful?           

Me: I guess he just wanted to tell me what he thought.

A few silent moments went by. I have learned through my few short years of motherhood that this is his processing time and to just be quiet because more was on its way. And then like clockwork.

X: It’s very weird Ma, his words sounded like nice words but he was not a nice man.

And there it was. The biggest truth bomb anyone had ever laid on me. Without even seeing this man, my three and a half year old little baby could tell simply by the tone in his voice that even though yes, he may have used kind words, he was not indeed, well meaning.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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Family, Guest Posts, motherhood

It Gets Cold in Florida.

January 24, 2015

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By Victoria Fedden.

It gets cold in Florida. Most people don’t realize that, but around Thanksgiving the temperature predictably dips down into the 40s, at least at night, and shocks all the tourists. I should’ve known better. I’ve lived here for the past fifteen years, but this morning I’m not prepared for anything, least of all shivering in a prison yard, sockless, without a jacket.

I forgot everything: the zip-loc bag, the right amount of cash for the vending machines, quarters for a soda because when they have visitors is the only time they can get a cold can of diet coke and that’s a big treat. I remembered not to wear green. They’d already sent two people home for wearing the wrong color. One man stormed off on his Harley, livid. The other woman cried and said it was Thanksgiving weekend and she was wearing lime green, nothing like the inmates’ olive uniforms, but the guards told her she should know the rules by now and she had to leave. A three hour drive up and back all for nothing. I’d driven four hours, with a four year old, which made it seem like eight. Would they send us home too?

I’m so scared I’m sick, but when you have a child who looks to your cues, you have to hide your fears so she feels safe. I fail at this too often. I break down sometimes daily, in sobs on the bathroom floor. There are days when it feels like I may literally die from anxiety, grief, regret over what this has done to my marriage and how I am damaging my child the way I was damaged. I always said I would be the one to break the cycle, but here I am, right here on the hamster wheel and I am taking my child to visit her grandmother in jail, mad because this is not the life I imagined for my daughter or myself. Just last week at preschool drop-off I watched my daughter bound into her classroom and then brazenly announce to her classmates: “My mommy cried ALL day yesterday!”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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Guest Posts, motherhood

The Growing Threat.

January 19, 2015

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By Morgan Baker.

As I got ready for an evening out, my cell phone rang. It was my youngest daughter, Ellie, a freshman at Emerson. “I’m having an allergic reaction.”

A year earlier, she had joined her older sister, Maggie, and her father, Matt, in the food allergy club. Maggie has been allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and legumes since she was a baby and always carries an EpiPen, a shot of epinephrine. Matt is allergic to many foods and combinations of allergens, including exercise after he’s eaten, and is idiopathic – they can’t always figure out what triggers his shock.

Through constant vigilance, Maggie has had only a few incidents. She went to birthday parties with her own cake when she was little and her elementary school and high school provided safe spaces for her in their cafeterias.

Matt has had more than 40 reactions when using an EpiPen and rushing to the hospital to be observed has been enough. But, he’s also had episodes where I watched as paramedics worked on him when I wasn’t sure an Epi, or two, would be sufficient, when his blood pressure dropped so low his skin turned gray.

But Ellie had escaped this horror. The only terror she lived with was worrying about her sister and dad like I did. I didn’t just live with the “what ifs” most parents live with that are real and scary enough. The “what ifs” that keep you awake in the middle of the night when your kid hasn’t come home yet. Or when you let your child walk to school for the first time.

I wondered if she had read the packaging?  Had the tabletops been wiped down? Had he remembered his EpiPens?

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