Browsing Tag

parenting

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Seven Cupcakes

January 14, 2019
cupcakes

By Sara Reyfield

Seven is an odd number. It’s also prime.

“Hi, baby!” I greet my son warmly, as if doing custody exchanges at the police station is totally normal. Just like prime, odd numbers – this is our normal. It’s where shit like this happens when you have a restraining order against your ex. When things are bad enough, he’s not even allowed in the police station, so I get the pure sarcastic joy of my former in-laws every other weekend. That’s also what happens.

“How was your birthday party?” I ask, while getting a weekend’s worth of dirty clothes shoved into my arms. And cotton candy. And McDonald’s bags. And the packages of cupcakes that I had packed with care on Friday afternoon. Seven cupcakes: one for my son. One for his grandmother, one for his grandfather. Two for his aunt and uncle. Two final ones: one for my son’s dad, one for his stepmom. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

On Permission

January 3, 2019

 By Varsha Tiwary

Permission: the act of allowing, to enable or grant something; the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed or permitted.

In India, the first thing children learn at school is how to ask for permission.

“May I come in Maa’m?”

“May I go to toilet. Maa’m.”

By age seven, children also understand that going to toilet is a code phrase for all kinds of things for which permission is verboten. So if you want to go out to play, loiter or eat you say you want to go to the toilet. When older, if you want to go out on a date, you seek permission to attend a birthday party of a same sex friend.

Well versed in the lexicon of  seeking permission, my fifteen year old daughter is endlessly fascinated by the relative absence of the concept of permission in American High School life. Initially it befuddled her.

When she asked her classmates, who to ask, to change a class, she was greeted by amused smiles.

‘You don’t have to ask, just go and tell the counselor what you want, she will sit with you and work something out.”

She also learnt within the first ten days, that though rules are to be followed, permissions must be self given. You want to step out of the class, pick up a pass and go. The teachers do not complain to parents if a student is not following the rules. They sit with her and discuss the problem and it’s implications, which she is considered adult enough to handle. There are no permissions required for what and how to wear, how to sit, how to comport, for the way they keep their hair, or the footwear they prefer.

When her friend got an ‘E’ in four subjects, the teacher told her she needed to put in extra work on them and maybe she should meet her after class to chalk out a plan? There is hardly any shaming, naming, ordering; the staples of Indian School life. Yet the responsibility is placed irrevocably and unmistakably in the student’s court.

In India, this whole business of asking for permission seeps into our DNA so much, that even when we are adults, having no dotted line to sign or a chalk marked boundary, not to cross, we are overcome with doubt. We tend to look around, who to ask? What if this is not allowed?

On the River Road crossing, a man stands every evening with a placard, “Trump is an Idiot.” I often give him a thumbs up and he goes wild, waving and blowing kisses. High school students sporting backpacks adorned with “Not my President” badge wait for a bus  and wave back at him.

My mind shifts to Delhi. Angry saffron Gods and cow protection bumper stickers. Ruling party flags fluttering from car hoods of vehicles. Dissent stickers exist only in dreams. Adulating T.V channels. If levels of ordinary, everyday dissent is a barometer of rigidity and authoritarianism of leadership, than Trump lags behind woefully, no matter how hard he is trying. Not for lack of effort on his part, but because he is hamstrung by a culture which is fundamentally allergic to seeking permission. It wouldn’t occur to ordinary Americans to ask for permission to differ, for permission to speak up.

In a feudal culture, even one which wears democratic ribbons, like India, everyone is wired to face read the King before they open their lips. People are so well –versed in the language and subtext of authoritarianism that they weave compliance in their behavior, much before it is sought. The most important ability of the King is the power to withdraw all kinds of permissions. Permissions are not self given, but achieved by proving loyalty. At an individual level, to refrain from dissent is self preservation.

Silence saves skin. Voluble support of rampaging Authority is even better. It insidiously lets you abrogate to your craven self, all kinds of permissions. Instead of counter- opinion, we see loud visible expressions of   support for the King, to maximize approval points. The tooters of the horn can mainline on all practical permissions of day to day life by having the system favour them. They can also open the pandora’s box of darker permissions; of speaking their ugliest most unconscionable thoughts aloud, and revel in the fear on the faces of the powerless. The smug comfort that derives from bowing before a flexing muscular authority. The way selective rights are a balm on picayune self esteem of those who need a reason for their failures. A permanent denial of conscience becomes the ultimate permission of the morally corrupt.

***

The biggest, sweetest thrills of my college years came when I flouted tyrannical authority. At that time, in my town, Chandigarh, the dictat of Punjab militants ran. All women were required to dress decorously, as defined by militants. Those who had to keep rule of law, either looked the other way or were too busy with more important things than to prevent men from shaming women who did not stick to the dress code. Overnight the vibrant campus was over-run by flocks of decorously dupattaed women, heads covered, going around demurely on the campus. Several incidents of erring women being slapped and abused were reported and it put us on an edge. Many women and many professors sided with the militants, saying this was one good thing being done by them.

Me and my friend Ruchi, lived for the adrenalin rush of evenings, when we both rode our bicycles, throwing all the “not alloweds” to winds. The keepers of culture having called it a day, we raced out wearing forbidden jeans and tee-shirt, hair open, heads gloriously uncovered. Only when we had cycled up to the lake and jogged on the Chandigarh lake front in our indecorous regalia, did we feel fit enough to return and breathe again the cloying air of the women’s hostel. Many years later as a professional and a homemaker who took up Krav Maga classes in Delhi, I was still the one to roll my eyes and snigger at a woman who innocently declared on the first day that she was in the class as her husband had allowed her to join it to regain her figure after child birth. Permission seeker, my antennae buzzed, unkindly. Yet, for all the cool defiance, the pretenses of autonomy, I too have always internally sought permissions for doing things that were most important to me.

Like writing. For interminable years, I belittled what I wrote as mere scribbling in journals, a frivolous thing. For the world thought so. It was a hobby, an entertainment. Certainly not as meaningful and valid, as writing an audit report, a project report or a manual of Office procedure. May be, because it was not my day job and there was no one to rate and mark and assess me for that. Even though writing animated me and was meaningful to me, I forever looked for an outside authority, to be able to step outside my closet of secret writer. Everything else, housework, children’s homework, husband’s lunch was more important than what I wanted to do, but for which I could not give myself permission.

I was a woman from the same patriarchal, permission seeking culture and despite my insistence to be otherwise, I had so internalized permission seeking that for a long time I could not summon up courage to do what I needed to. I required company, which I think is just another way of seeking permission; to step out and embrace my singularity. Only a fortuitous friendship, a mental holding of hands with a like- minded woman enabled me to take the first timorous steps in the world of writing. Like those cycle rides to the lake front, the free fall into creativity was its own reward and once in it, I looked askance no more.

In a permission seeking culture, everyone, but most dangerously, women, who are subject to even more rules, become their own censors. The self which becomes either a withdrawer of permissions, or seeker of licenses, cannot create art. What after all is creativity, if not all the freedom, with all the responsibility of granting to yourself the inner permission to explore and experiment, without having any set destination, a defined, profitable outcome? To feel the feelings that you thought were inappropriate? To voice opinions that you know are not approved? To wear wrong ideas as openly as you would a wrong dress?

At the High School Art Show in American High School, four halls are arrayed with rows upon rows of triple hinged screens, the kind that are used as room dividers in hospital wards. They act as display boards for a dazzling variety of art, oil canvasses, water colors, mixed media, sculpture, installations, digital art, photography; the show is one long celebration of freedom to experiment. Some of it is good. Some is awful. In fact it is the bad ones that fill me with most wonder. In the school back in India, one of Delhi’s top schools, anything less than excellent would never be displayed. Artistic excellence was pre-defined and only what met the standards would be deemed fit to display.

How would anyone learn to re- define excellence then? The display boards may look good, but the artistic spirit shrivels up. What all could happen if all children everywhere were permitted to jump off the boat called permission?

Varsha Tiwary, currently on sabbatical from her nine to five job; writes short fiction constantly to make sense of people and events around her. Her works have appeared in DNA-Out of Print, 2017; Kitaab, Muse India, Basil O’ Flaherty; and are forthcoming in Gargoyle press, Jaggery Lit and The Wagon. She lives in Washington DC.

https://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Memoir-Waking-Listening/dp/1524743569/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539219809&sr=8-1

Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.

 

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their WRITING & THE BODY RETREAT. Portland April 5-7, 2019. Click the photo above.

 

Chronic Illness, Guest Posts, parenting

Little Elephant

December 12, 2018
elephant

By Amy D. Lerner

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? They’re trying to figure out what this creature is in front of them. Each of the men feels a different part of the elephant, the trunk, the foot, the tail, and describes the elephant based on only that one part. They each come up with wildly different ideas about what an elephant is, and not one of them sees the big picture, the whole elephant.

My elephant is only 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, yet this story is still true.

Like many people, I make up stories and make metaphorical leaps, from an elephant to my four-year-old daughter, without even thinking about it. My mind is a runaway steam engine—I can’t help thinking of that image—and metaphors are the coal.

“The way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor,” write George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, the seminal book on thinking in metaphors that was published in 1980. We tend to speak and think in metaphors without being aware of it and without stopping to think about how our metaphors are guiding us, but they are, Lakoff and Johnson insist.

Studies have shown that by thinking about the story of the blind men touching the elephant, it’s as if I’m actually touching the wrinkled and rough skin of an elephant. In other words, metaphors are stored in the same part of the brain as the things they represent: the idea of kicking the habit stimulates the same motor area of the brain as kicking a ball does. Metaphors are deeply embedded in our minds, and they’re linked to the most basic human functions. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Colors of Her Life

December 10, 2018
musicals

By Mackenzie Kiera

Lights.

You share two things with your dead grandmother: death and musicals. That’s all you have in common. Had. Since becoming pregnant, you’ve been thinking about her more and more. The weight of her disease falls on you, coils around your heart, tightens and reminds you of your own mortality.

You remember her easiest when you sit with Papa’s cologne bottle in the corner of your bathroom and inhale the dark pine scent—him, you miss. He was the grandparent you visited and called and loved. You were the granddaughter he doted on, bought ice cream for, took to UCLA to see Shakespeare, picked you up from school if you were sick and Mom couldn’t get you.

Her? She was in the background with rules. Things you couldn’t play with. Cabinets you weren’t allowed to open, soft drinks that were hers and hers alone. She always had dark chocolate ice-cream bars, salted potatoes chips, baby carrots and ripe, cherry tomatoes. String cheese. Tiny sandwiches. You’d watch as she spread the mayo on her sourdough bread thinly, gave it some lettuce, turkey and a slice of white precut cheese. Things she could just grab and never binge on, but sometimes she would just need something. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

Hole

September 17, 2018
hole

By Rhea Wolf

Forgotten already. Absorbed in the mystery.
Into the egg, I come. A mother,
Another one for the
turning, another one for the
wheel, under the ground,
burning waiting resurrecting
falling, singing the long high note and
descending Oh Phoenix oh fire walkers
now I am red and hot inside with
a fractured other,
many wishes,

and a fantastic losing mind.
Thinking those men
think it means enlightenment
but they are still free.
Making big scribbles and smoking sacred cigarettes
losing their minds to art and science,
while they are still free.
And my petals don’t fold out anymore. Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts, motherhood

Learning to Say No: #MeToo and Mothering

September 3, 2018
learning

CW: This post addresses unwanted sexual advances and may contain explicit language.

By Lilly Bright

“Mommy, I love this beautiful person staring back at me from the mirror!” my five-year-old daughter exclaims from the bathroom where she stands facing the sink. Inwardly I rejoice, then wonder how many of us women think that on a daily basis, or ever? An honest exclamation, wild joy for the person staring back at us in the mirror?

For the past year, I’ve been contemplating how to make a meaningful contribution to the #MeToo movement, a personal experience that could illuminate, an allegory, some teachable moment. Then last week, walking the streets of Santa Monica, an uncomfortable memory surfaced. One of those that never actually left but that also wasn’t a regular visitor. But there it was- Proustian in the way it overwhelmed my senses and severe in the way it challenged held notions of categorization. The event isn’t murky yet it’s felt this way whenever I’ve attempted to package it. For years I diminished what happened because I didn’t say “no” and the harassment didn’t strike me as apparent. But the truth is, a line was crossed, a red zone rife with sexual power-play and coercion. And it went like this: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Leaning Into The Pain

June 27, 2018
nest

By Claudia Hinz

“Ooh, look at the babies!” my daughter exclaimed at dinner. I hurried around to her side of the table from which she had a clear view of the park outside. Over the years, we have all held to our assigned spots at the dinner table, although my husband has moved into my 19 year-old daughter’s chair since she left for college. The other seat, my son’s seat, has been vacant for a while, but I leave a fresh cloth napkin and a placemat for him.

The baby goslings tottered around after their mother who nosed them in the right direction of the water. The sun was low in the sky and my eyes are not what they once were, so the goslings appeared as electrified yellow balls. Cute, as my daughter pronounced, but also dangerous in their vulnerability. I knew that in mere days they would be transformed into gawky, unsteady juveniles, the cute baby stage left behind.

This morning, there is the smell of perfume in the kitchen. She has left but I still smell my daughter in here with me. It is her voice on our answering machine. A message recorded when she was probably in middle school, the voice of a young girl, my baby. She is now 18. She just voted in her first election and will be headed off to college in less than four months. Still, I can’t change the message. We never use the home phone, but I am reluctant to cancel the service because I cannot bear to lose my daughter’s voice on the machine. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Fear, Guest Posts

All Fathers Want to Hurt Their Sons

June 17, 2018
hurt

By Brian Zimbler

“I feel like you’re doing everything in your power, verbally and non-verbally, to tell me not to say anything negative,” I say to Randy, my therapist.

We’re doing a phone session.  I’m propped up on Nora’s side of the bed against an ornamental IKEA pillow.  Nora and Myla are downstairs, watching Elliot.  It’s his 12th day.  It’s a snow day.  I have my jeans on, which is a total Nora no-no (no outdoor clothes can touch the duvet) but I am being passive aggressive because I want her to love me more than the baby.

“I’m not forcing you to be positive,” Randy parries, “If anything, I’m asking you to stay in — “

“I know, I know, stay in the good feelings.  I am.  I’m trying.  You gotta admit, I could’ve spun into the real dark telling you the parents-at-the-bris story just now, but I stayed good.”

Elliot’s bris was last week.  My parents came down.  The mohel, in the prep documents she sent us, let us know she would need an assistant to stay by her side throughout the process.  Nora and I decided this would either be my father the doctor or my mother the therapist, we would decide day of; however, day of, I decided – though I can’t really call it a decision, more a clear loud message from inside – that I would never ever let either of my parents be with my son at his most vulnerable, ever, and that I would be the one to usher him through.

“It’s never the dad,” said the mohel.

“This time it’s the dad,” I said.

And I did it.  I stayed with my beautiful new son even through the part upstairs where she pulled my beautiful new son’s foreskin back and clamped it, to prepare him to be cut.  Even through the part where he was brought downstairs covered in a tallis on a sick infant’s gurney.  Even through the part where all the sugar water in the world could not put my strong son to sleep. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

You Can’t Quit Motherhood: On Privilege, Motherhood, and Effort

April 16, 2018
effort

By Laura Leffler

In bed one winter morning, when I was so pregnant with the twins that I spent hours each day icing my fat feet, propped high on pillows, I floated around personality traits as if they were names. I think the girl should be creative, I told my fiancé. She’ll carry a sketchbook wherever she goes. And the boy will be a bookish type with round glasses. They’d both be terrible at math and sports. I was laughing at myself, enjoying the ridiculousness of it, knowing that these little people growing inside me would be who they were no matter that I planned for them.

But my fiancé grew serious. “You know,” he said, “I want them to be scrappy.”

I recoiled – I could actually feel my lips twisting into a sneer. I scanned through the list of things I wanted my children to be: happy, healthy, and kind, of course, but also, more secretively, bookish, artistic, beautiful, popular. Scrappy made me think of a shaggy little dog. Scrappy made me think of the pugilistic kids I knew back home, kids who showed up uninvited to parties, straggly kids, kids who tried too hard. Scrappy was not on my list. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

But, What If…?: Confessions of an Anxious Mother

April 4, 2018
anxious

By Catherine Jones

I suffer from anxiety, which is debilitating at times.  I have suffered for as long as I can remember, both mentally and physically.  And while I’ve tried many methods that help to alleviate my symptoms, I know my anxiety will never completely go away.  It only got much worse after my child was born.  I had a lot of time during my maternity leave to come up with some truly unreasonable, completely invalid fears.  One of my biggest issues with anxiety is that I know I’m being silly, but I can’t help it.  I know there’s no reason to be afraid to ask for help finding an item at the grocery store and there’s definitely no reason to contemplate all the awful things that may happen to my child.  I hope some anxious mothers out there can relate, or at least be relieved that they’re not nearly as imaginative (cuckoo) as me.

When my son was first born, he hardly slept, or if he did it was for maybe an hour at a time.  He was always hungry and wanted to be nursed for hours and then be nursed again after a short catnap.  He never seemed particularly tired, but I was getting loopy from a lack of sleep.  When he did manage to sleep at night for a few hours at a time, I kept getting up to check on him, straining my eyes in the darkness to make sure his little chest was still rising and falling.  When he switched to formula and actually started to sleep through the night, I was terrified.  Why was he sleeping so much?  Was something wrong?  Infants are supposed to sleep for most of the day, but not my baby!  I slept on a cot in his room for months. Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts

The “Me” in #MeToo

March 25, 2018
#MeTooButNotMyGirls

By Jessie Kanzer

#MeTooButNotMyGirls. That is my declaration today, on this blistery New York Sunday, after my three-year-old’s swim lesson, and before my one-year-old’s gym class. I’m not here to go into the sordid details of my own pain body: the minutia of inappropriate sexual contact when I was a wee girl, the play-by-play of getting seduced (date raped?) by my college internship supervisor. We can talk about our wounds until we are blue in the face—and we should—because change is happening as we speak. But, for me, an eternal self-help’er, it’s also important to look at the “Why.” Not why they harmed me — that’s their problem, and that will be their reckoning. But why I was the easiest of prey. Why I often relinquished my power before I was even asked. What messages did I absorb during my childhood and young-adulthood? I need to know. Because, #MeTooButNotMyGirls.

“Be nice.” “Be pretty.” “Know your place.”

My formative years took place in the Soviet Union. I was taught to obey authority from very early on (I still have an inexplicable fear of cops and principals). The strictness of a Soviet daycare center was just what you would imagine it to be. And then in school, we were further stripped of our individuality and self-esteem. I was a born people-pleaser to boot, and I worked very hard to please my young parents and stoic grandmother. My strict teachers, my relentless gymnastics coaches. The passersby who expected me to smile. The family friends who expected hugs and kisses. “I’m a good girl, a very good girl,” was my motto since the age of two. Polite? Check. Cute and neat? Check. Obedient? I bucked that one at times, but not without consequence. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

The Thing About Grief Is…

March 21, 2018
grief

By Stacey Shannon

The thing about grief is:

I can’t trust myself.

No matter how I rail against this part of my life/year/self, that is the bottom line.   It is part of me.  And though I may disregard it for 11 out 12 months of the year, it’s always there.  It WILL come  at me like Shane Stant came at Nancy Kerrigan with a club. When it arrives, it does what it always does.  It hobbles my knees and runs away as I fall to the ground, asking “Why, why?”.

No, I’m tired of asking why.  I’ll never really know.  Moving on, next question:

When?  Nope, done asking when.  When will it be over?  The answer to that one is always the same and it is this: never.

How?  That’s a good one. Let’s unpack that. (Don’t you hate when people say that?  It’s so douchey. “I know you are feeling rotten right now, let’s unpack that’!  How about, NO?)   How best to navigate these two weeks every winter, every fucking winter, 18 winters and counting.  How?  I’m not going to answer that.  Because when I do answer that question, I  immediately discount my own answer. Simply because: I can’t trust it. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Pinned

March 16, 2018
doll

By Elizabeth Newdom

“Would you act like that if you were having dinner with the queen?” my dad asked me from across the kitchen table, his eyes framed in black rectangles, his brows two arched wings.

Behind him, I could see my reflection in the display case housing my grandmother’s gold-rimmed china plates. A rush of blood filled my cheeks. For three impossible seconds, I resembled a captured animal, stuck in the blinding light of someone’s headlamps.

My eyes fell heavily upon my place mat as I continued chewing a piece of steak, trying to work through the meat’s toughness. Had I spoken out of turn?

“Don’t touch those,” he continued, pointing at the centerpiece – a glass bowl filled with ceramic vegetables.

Had I touched them? I might have nudged the fake asparagus a little closer to the pea pod and artichoke. But I said nothing. Instead, my eyes returned to the mat, my cheek color deepening into a crimson sunset.

And were we in fact royalty? I was only seven, so naturally I was confused. Perhaps, when I turned eight, the queen was going to show up with my prince. Maybe all of the table manners and social etiquette were preparation for life in someone’s faraway castle: every linen napkin, crystal water glass, and salad fork, part of an elaborate grooming process. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Time’s Up

March 9, 2018
goodbye

By Jennifer Lang

Six years ago this summer, I upended my life and moved halfway across the world from New York to Israel after my French husband announced he couldn’t spend one more year in America. Our son, eighteen, had enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces, and neither one of us could imagine sending him off alone, to a country where parents revere and pamper their teenaged soldiers. We never consulted our girls, twelve and fourteen, who cried and complained and came because they had no choice.

My yes included a ten-year clause: from the start of first child’s army service to the end of last child’s service, from my mid-forties to my mid-fifties. Philippe, desperate to return to the country where we’d met and married, accepted my conditions.

After we settled into our house in Raanana in the center of the country, I told anyone who asked that I didn’t intend to stay in Israel if even one of my children left, especially for my birthplace. If I couldn’t carve out a professional niche for myself. If I felt scared of the never-ending cycle of violence. If I couldn’t handle the distance between my aging parents and me. If I reached a stage when the “ifs” keep me up at night. Continue Reading…