Heavy-Handed

cc35a8c5371d149bb3f38a5231f6eb0c

It used to be when I wanted to offer someone support, I had two women in mind. The first woman threw her body over yours to shield you with her own, taking blows and absorbing pain on your behalf. The other woman rolled up her sleeves and planted her palms on the flat of your back to push you uphill wether you liked it or not. I aspired to be those women. Single-minded women. Heavy-handed women. Self-sacrificing women. Women who acted from a place of absolute knowing. I am protecting you or I am pushing you. That is how I supported me too. Protecting myself or pushing myself. Single-minded. Heavy-handed. Self-sacrificing. I didn’t understand how my concept of support was disempowering and damaging. Especially to my own sweet self. I was too in love with my own brute strength and force of will. I was too scared of uncertainty to allow myself anything other than an unwavering ability to act.

healing-a-broken-heart-vicki-rossAs a parent, not only is that not an effective way of transferring life skills for success to my kids, it’s fucking exhausting. It’s also a little soul bruising for them. And my desire to keep my sons’ beautiful hearts as intact and vibrant as possible won out over the fear and led me to learn new ways of parenting.

As a community member, it was downright dysfunctional. There’s no growing together. There’s no taking turns. There’s no room to learn from mistakes. As a lover and friendship partner, it was just not cool. Where is the choice? Where is the recognition of unique skill sets different than my own? Where is the display of belief in a loved ones ability to choose their own adventure? So I tried new ways of being supportive. New ways to show I’ve got your back, but they were shaky attempts. I wasn’t quite sure of what I was doing. I didn’t know if I was being as helpful as I could be. Maybe I should go back to pushing and protecting. This whole being gentle thing is so mysterious to me.

As much as I love being right, there’s something so satisfying about being wrong about what support looks like.

I’m now 6 weeks out from an intense surgery. The months that led up to the procedure were pain filled and emotionally draining. https://healingartchakraenergy.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/chakra-angel/Sometimes I didn’t recognize myself, I was so far from the woman I thought I had forged myself into being. I was not in control of what was happening inside of me. I could not reach into myself and fix the problem. I also had this sinking fear that if I was not the heavy-handed, single-minded woman I have relied on in my past, I would fail to heal and my children would suffer greatly. Yup, all of that was there and no, none of it happened.

Instead, the kids and I were supported so deftly, so deeply, by so many loving, sweet, strong, kind people. People who never disempowered me as they held me close. Support that looked like a steady hand to hold and be guided by. Support that was many arms in a squooshy soft embrace. Support that came with check ins and me being asked “is this ok?” sincerely. There was no heavy-handedness on the scene.

d90c34dbc23d0ebbc307842727314135I am beyond grateful, I’m transformed. This level of love and support is healing me on so many levels. My body is no longer in pain. I’m in the process of regaining my stamina while remembering to be gentle with my body. I’m also healing the broken heart that comes from never having experienced what empowering support actually feels like. The world is a lot less scary when you know people are capable of effectively caring for you. And now I have so many more examples of what it means to help than I could have imagined! A whole new menagerie of helpers now live inside me.

And I want to keep being helpful in this way to others too. To empower and support. To create the sustainable container for growth. No selves need to be sacrificed in order for care to emerge.

One of the people who cared for me so completely during this whole experience, who went with me to Dr’s appointments and held me while I cried after them, who came with me to surgery and stayed as close to my side as he could throughout my hospital stay, who brought me home and made sure I slept was Makana.11703288_917106778373565_8634713703738432597_o

And he’s got a funding campaign going right now. All of this helping and supporting and healing that he offers he does without asking for much in return. If you’d like to support a man who supports others so sweetly, check out his funding campaign here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Support Sandwich

12308547_10104796672606453_2896547325091524194_n

There’s a name for the current generation of people who are both raising children and caring for their ill parents, something tacky, like ‘The Sandwich Generation.’ You can look it up. The sandwich phenomena came about from people waiting to have children later in life combined with older people staying older for longer: a 45 year old mother of teenagers who is also the primary caretaker of her 75 year old mother with dementia. At least, those are the stories I found when I went searching for support online last year after my mother had her stroke. I don’t really fit into the sandwich generation’s parameters. I’m too young, my mom’s too young and never really completely independent of me. We are not of the middle class variety. The stories didn’t stick, as difficult as it is to be the center of that scale, teens and seniors both needing a lot of attention. I didn’t see my story in the groups being formed.

How… how am I going to do this? Am I going to do this? Of course I am.

This being taking care of my mother on a whole new level. I’ve always taken care of her to certain degree due to her mental health issues. My entire adult life she has either lived in my home with me, or has been just down the street. She’s been in group homes and treatment facilities. But the place she wants to be the most is on my couch planted safely in front of my TV. It’s always been a hard boundary to keep. Harder still to keep after her big stroke and then a series of smaller ones where I began helping with her daily needs. But she liked having her own place too. It was a compromise.

And then, my mother had a heart attack over the Christmas holiday. She is recovering slowly at her sister’s now and will be there for the next few months. She won’t be able to come back to her apartment in Oakland. And, well, shit, I guess I can’t do this. And that is not an easy thing for me to say. I can’t is not a phrase I’m comfortable with. I’m ok with I won’t, or I don’t, because there is choice present. But can’t? I hate can’t. Can’t means even if I wanted to, I’m not able.

And right now, I’m not able. I’m having surgery soon to remove an ever growing and ever more painful grapefruit-sized fibroid from the wall of my uterus. It’s been two months of near constant agony. Recovery from surgery will take another month or so. I physically can’t do everything that I want to do. I am able to be a full time parent to my kiddos. I am able to love the work that I do. I am able to be careful with myself as I face this health challenge. I am not able to keep my mother healthy and alive.

I made this agreement with myself when I was 10 years old that I would always take care of my mother. This is just who I was going to be. I was never going to abandon my mother the way she had been abandoned. They way we had been abandoned. And that 10 year old girl inside of me is kicking and screaming and crying at not keeping that promise. But I know that 10 year old girl needs to be kicking and screaming and crying for a whole other set of reasons. She doesn’t know that I’ll still be caring for my mother, loving my mother in ways that won’t break me. My 10 year old self doesn’t believe I have a breaking point.

I took care of my family from such a young age because I didn’t see anybody else doing it. And that is fucked up. It’s not easy now as an adult to look at how that belief has shaped my life. How it’s kept me from maturing in certain ways. When you’re in charge at too early of an age, shit gets weird. Gratefully because of all the community love I’m experiencing now, the vulnerability I’m leaning into, the connections who absolutely 100% can take care of me in their own unique ways, shit is getting less weird. It’s hard, yes. But not as weird.

I am able to do what I can because of the trust I have in the people that surround me. Not a child’s trust of blind need and constant demand. I’ve finally learned the adult version of trust. A trust that comes with compassion and understanding.

So fuck a sandwich generation. I’m feeling snug in the center of a support sandwich. I’m shoulder to shoulder with family and friends who want me to rest when I need it. Want me to fall apart as necessary. Who don’t need me to be stronger or smarter or more held together than I can be. I’m learning that’s ok too.

This isn’t how I planned to begin 2016. I had a whole other blog post to share about upcoming workshops and counseling opportunities. You’ll have to stay tuned for that in the Spring. For the rest of the winter, I’ll be resting and recovering.

 

It started with socks; On self care and adulting.

12032642_10104664801621963_111935428200825044_o

Last year, around this time, I wrote in a blog post, “It’s no big deal, I just have to go away and dream me all up again.” Dreaming didn’t look like what I thought it would. First my mother had a stroke, and that was terrifying. Then, I didn’t get the position with an organization that I had my heart set on. That was painful. Next, I was laid off from the organization that I was working for. That was depressing. That covers September through December 2014. Then my romantic life went to shit, ah January. That’s around the time this photo was taken:

6P1A7460 (1)

January 2015

When I look at this photo I see myself suffering from anxiety and neglect. This is the face of a woman putting her own precious self last on her own list of priorities.  Too much uncertainty. Too much struggle. Too much “just keep a roof over the kids’ heads and you’re ok” thinking. When life was hard, I was the last person I wanted to take care of. What I secretly wanted was for someone to come take care of me the way I took care of everyone else. And I say secret because never in a million years would I admit this to myself, or to anyone else. It was a shameful thing for a grown ass woman to want. And I did accept that I alone was responsible for getting my needs met, I just made sure I had as few needs as possible and I didn’t put much effort into meeting them. I was practicing self abandonment. I was doing to myself what my parents had done to me; something I would never do to anyone that I loved.

During this whole year I was in Interchange and getting a ton of weekly, sometimes daily, counseling. I was getting reparented by a dozen or so people regularly. My best friend and I were doing the training together and he took on a reparenting role in my life too. It wasn’t the healthiest thing for either of us, but it had a huge impact. He bought me socks for Christmas, because I didn’t own any. Ever. I made sure my kids had drawers full of socks, all different kinds, I just never thought to buy myself any. He made me eat warm, sweet gooey oatmeal when I was sad and didn’t want to eat anything.

This new me I was dreaming up could do that. Could accept the care being offered. Could say, I’m tired and scared and I need a cuddle and that’s ok. There’s this funny line my friends say when someone is flubbing up a moment, “Do you need an adult?” It’s ironic since we’re all super capable competent adults, and yet in certain moments we all suck at adulting. What struck me though, was how much I really did need an adult because I wasn’t being the adult my own self needed me to be.

Part of getting in touch with all the unmet needs I’ve carried with me from childhood was welcoming in the sad, unloved needy parts of me. After months of counseling support, the fears of being pathetic or unlovable that I had been suppressing burst through the stage door of my super ego and claimed the spotlight. My strategy of loving other people well as a way to prove I was worthy of love had to go. I needed to show up for my neglected self in a whole new way. So there I was, knowing I needed to do a thing, but not knowing how to do it.

12032642_10104664801621963_111935428200825044_o

October 2015

And then something magic happened. In May, I went on a retreat. Me! I don’t do these things. For one, it’s been impossible to take time away from the kids, and two… I just don’t retreat. Ever. It was an offer to get away from it all for 10 days and do a whole body chemical detox all made possible by friends who loved me. I said yes because this was the thing! This was a way for me to prove to myself that I mattered to me. I stopped eating sugar and drinking caffeine, it’s been 6 months and I feel amazing. 5 months ago I started moving my body more, I hated it at first. The sadness of not taking care of myself for so long overwhelmed me. But the joy I’ve found in movement is astounding to me. Every day that I prioritize my health is a day I know I am loving me. The loving connections I’ve made throughout the past year have made all of this self love possible for me. From a pair of socks to a whole new way of eating, I’m adulting!

Each moment of change this year led to another step of even greater change for me. Like dominoes. And it has been so uncomfortable at times, so much stored up pain that needed to be metabolized. There have been moments of shattering, where all my unconscious desires to be cared for rushed to the surface and it felt like I was drowning in grief. Moments of confusion and anger and bitterness and envy.  Impatience with my own process. Regret for not having done this for myself sooner. Embarrassment at how delusional I was. It’s all in there. And right next to it is acceptance, and kindness and understanding, and a gradually developing maturity. I’m so grateful to have an entire community supporting me in this process.

I did dream up a whole new me. I have a whole new profession, a whole new relationship to myself, a whole new vision of what’s possible for my family. And…now since I’m learning to care for myself, I’m all glowy!

Get This Dolphin to Woody Harrelson!

IMG_0002 2

This is a guest post by my dear friend Murial Barkley-Aylmer.

IMG_0045 2If you would like to participate in the effort to unite “Hoover” and Woody, it’s as easy as sharing this message with your social networks in whatever way you do—help us to create a trending story so that we are able to get on the radar! If you are reading this and have a more direct connection to Woody, and are able to share Murial’s message with him, my heart would be so grateful, and the town of Chelan would love to thank you personally in kind.

This is the story of a meticulous metal dolphin and a movie star. Join us, as we optimistically set out to unite Woody Harrelson with our art, and our cause—fire victim recovery in Chelan, Washington. Use silly for good!

Theo Ramey is one of the most potent characters of my Lake Chelan childhood. I grew up perusing the shadows of his metal shop, creatures and vehicles and other beauty coming to life through his welding hands. His voice was gruff, his horseshoe mustache unparalleled, and his heart so incredibly kind. One of the greatest gifts I ever received as a child was made by his hands: a bunk bed of metered metal scrap and tin rosettes, all painted lovingly in the shades of girlhood.

4f4d50b211f87.image

When the fires raged through my hometown of Chelan, WA two weeks ago, I reached out to my artist communities for support. I was gathering donation “perks” (or prizes) for an Indiegogo campaign designed to raise money for those experiencing the most profound of the devastation: homes lost, forest charred, livestock, wildlife and pets displaced and injured. Almost immediately, Theo reached out. “ I have a sculpture for your cause. It’s a dolphin.” When I saw the photos, I was awed. Theo has been collecting her parts for 14 years—combing junkyards and antique store back rooms for perfectly comprised hunks of copper, brass, aluminum, and cast-iron. But when I asked for an approximate value, his answer raised my eyebrow. “Well, I was going to ask Woody Harrelson for $10,000…but I suppose that was the ‘movie star’ price.”

Turns out, Theo and Woody were neighbors once upon a time, working and playing in their own ways on Maui. While the two never met in person, Theo was friends with Woody’s cook and housekeeper. One day she brought Theo’s portfolio in to show her boss. When Woody marveled at the polished glory of reinvented junk, she told him, “I wish you could see the piece he is working on right now, a dolphin. It’s beautiful.” And Woody replied, “I’d love to look at it. Have him let me know when it is done.”

Fast forward 10 years, a thousand scrap metal searches, and a relocation to Western WA state: Hey Woody, the dolphin is ready!  And her name is Hoover.

Now, I don’t know Woody Harrelson, but as far as celebrities go, I feel like we could be friends. A questioning, boundary-heaving, environmentally-minded activist with a penchant for spontaneous and silly? I’d like to have tea. And maybe it’s crazy, but I feel like he just might be the kind of person who would respond to the quirky plea of a desperate stranger.

So:

Dear Woody Harrelson,

Rumor has it, this dolphin belongs with you. You were in the mind of the artist as he slowly collected its components. Its baby-steps toward existence occurred on a plot of land abutting yours. And when the artist donated its gleaming form to our fundraiser, he did so with your name, laughingly, upon his lips. You already have one foot in our story, and I’d love to invite you the rest of the way in. At ‘regular people price,’ obviously.

Washington state seems perpetually on fire, Woody. You and I both know that the Earth is losing patience with our mismanagement of her resources, of *her* art. The way the West burns seems a clear indicator for change. At the moment, however, my grief is too great to look beyond the immediacy of this wildfire’s aftermath—the people, wildlife, and loved animals that are displaced and experiencing loss in my hometown. I don’t have much in the way of money to contribute to the rebuilding, but I’ve got my words to use, artist friends with generous hearts, and an incurable case of ‘the optimistic’.

If Hoover is your dolphin, Woody, let me know? 

Love,

Chelan (and me, Murial)

IMG_0002 2

Grow the Love: Supporting Chelan Fire Victims is a collaborative fundraising effort of the grown children of Lake Chelan, WA. Through art, storytelling, and heart-centered reciprocity, we are doing what we can to help rebuild the magic that made us! All donations above $25 are responded to with an artful “perk”—handwritten thank you letters, jewelry, visual and audio art, healing work and services! Check it out http://bit.ly/lovechelan

Being seen and being accepted

05182012
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. ~Rainer Maria Rilke


Interchange is almost over. I was nervous going in to weekend 8, I was cautiously optimistic too. I wrote about my hopes and goals prior to the weekend here. I shared my thoughts and feelings going in, it feels right sharing them again after the weekend too.

On Saturday morning, when we were all first gathered together, Steve asked people to raise their hands to show what levels of work we’ve done on identities and oppression. He started with who was completely new to looking at oppression and privilege and then proceeded all the way up to who has done a lot of work, who might even be called an expert in this field. I raised my hand for that one. There were very few of us with our hands raised. Fighting oppression and remedying social stigma is what I do professionally. I’m an anti-racist researcher and intersectionally aware sexual health educator. From racial justice to media justice to reproductive justice, I’m all in, all the time. So if I’m a pro at this, why was I so anxious about a spending a weekend with a bunch of people I’ve grown to love and trust talking about stuff I’m really good at talking about?

Honestly, it’s the well-meaning white people thing. And then the well-meaning straight people thing, plus a dose of the well-meaning upper middle class thing. I’m a queer, mixed-race, woman who is a single parent and was raised in poverty. That’s a lot of marginalized identities wrapped into one package. I’m also privileged in that I can be perceived as both heterosexual and white, my children are white, I have a graduate degree, I’m a U.S. citizen and I’m able-bodied. So I’ve got a lot going for me. I experience interlocking oppressions while experiencing interlocking privileges.

I was really, really afraid that even in this loving, super supportive space, I wouldn’t be seen as the complex person I am. In my life, I have learned that in order to be seen as valuable I must only identify with my most privileged self. I’ve had to collapse into as close to a one-dimensional being as possible to be seen. That’s my fear in large groups. But as we went through the morning’s activities where each person practiced unapologetically claiming our multiple identities it hit me. I felt a shared fear ripple through, the fear of being undervalued once we’re identified as “different.” That’s what living in a hierarchical society has done to us. As I listened to each member of my home group describe both the visible and invisible labels our society slaps onto human beings, my fear of not being seen and supported for being the complex person I am transformed into a curiosity of “How can I make sure I’m seen and supported in my totality?” That may mean I have to specifically request to be seen in my whole human complexity. That may mean I walk away from an interaction if it isn’t serving me and that may mean seeking out an ally when I need to. Me having that transformational thought was a direct result of the prior 7 months of work I’ve been doing in Interchange.

I realized that showing up in this mixed space as my full self with all my interlocking identities claimed and trusting that care and support would actually be available to me was how I was going to overcome oppression. I carried that question with me for the rest of the weekend. Each new activity and each new exercise, I looked for evidence of how I was being seen and supported. I have 30 years of experience in not being fully supported, I know what that looks like and how to deal with it. I’ve accepted being heart broken about it. What I don’t have enough of? Examples of being seen and accepted. And I’m done being heart broken.

Sunday afternoon I had this deeply healing experience when we split up into specific support groups. I was able to get the support I’ve always wanted around being raised in a family with domestic violence. I could have been a group that was focused on any of the marginalized identities that I claim, but what I really wanted was to be seen and supported as someone who had violence in their childhood and has done the work to not have domestic violence in their adulthood. I wanted to be seen and supported as that person by people who experience being that person too. And I was. I learned that though each person in my group had a different version of domestic violence, we shared similar outcomes. Hyper-vigiliance. Fiercely independent. Fear of abusing our own children. Fear of intimate partners turning violent no matter how long we’ve been with them. I sat in the center of a small group and we saw ourselves in each other and we loved and loved and loved each other. 

I connected deeply over the weekend with people who both share and do not share my specific stigmatized identities. I spoke truths I’ve never spoken before. I identified the blocks that keep me apart when what I so achingly want is to belong. In the weeks that have followed weekend 8, I’ve brought the question, “How am I being seen and supported in my totality?” into my counseling sessions. And then within those sessions, a new question came, “How do I make sure I am seeing others in their totality too?” This is a radically new approach to interacting for me. 

If you’re interested in Interchange, I highly recommend it. And I’d love to see more of my community doing this work too. I’m happy to answer any questions and share more of my experience. You can check out the Interchange website too.

 

Healing Three Generations of Mothers

As I parent, I always feel like there is something better I could be doing. All the time. There’s this songbird perched on my shoulder, chirping away: “What else? What more? What next?” Maybe that changes once they move out on their own. I don’t know that part yet. Mine are still underfoot… well… underfoot while being taller than me, it’s like having 6 foot tall toddlers sometimes.

In grad school, I developed this particularly brilliant habit for getting my thesis done. When I need to write, I mop the floor first. Yup. While I’m sweeping, scrubbing, rinsing and drying, the desire to be writing builds so I’m writing in my head the whole time too. It’s a great trick for getting things done.

Right now, I’m wanting to write about parenting and oppression. I’m in the final stretch of the Interchange Year Long Training; Weekend 8, also known as “The Oppression Weekend.” This weekend we’re focussing on Social Identities, Oppression, Internalized Oppression, Reclaiming Power, Being an Ally, Leadership, and Mental Health Oppression. You might think one weekend focussing on oppression can’t be effective… Yeaaaaah. No. There’s a method to the madness that we only meet once a month for the weekend intensives. In Interchange, you can go as deep as you want to. You have some ancestral shit to deal with, there’s space for that. You want to stay in the now and focus on your struggles in finding a job that doesn’t suck your soul from your body? There’s room for that too. I’m planning on going hella deep. Like, three generations of oppressed women deep. My direct maternal lineage is not for the faint of heart.

I was 13 when my mother piled on layers of clothes to jump into the pool of our apartment complex mid-winter. She was surprised at how her body automatically started swimming, keeping her alive even though her mind wanted to die… I was a year old when my mother’s mouth is wired shut to repair the bones my father’s fist shattered, yet they were still in love with each other. She leaves him not because they have a violent relationship, but because she judges him as weak…I’m not even conceived but I know my mother’s first memory; her aunt dragged through the yard by two uniformed men then shut into a white wagon. Her grandmother not looking up from the red eye gravy she’s making… My mother’s parents met because they shared the same nickname; two teenagers named Red in Coffee County Alabama. He lied about his age to impress her. Lying was the kindest betrayal he ever showed her… My mother never laughs when she talks about her own mother. There’s no safety to be found there. No way to fend off that sad.

I understand why love scares the hell out of my mother. It’s all very logical. I’m not sure you can have the life she’s had and not hate love. Love is at the root of all pain. Love is the fingerprint at the scene of the crime. Love is why children go hungry and women get beaten, raped and abandoned. Love is a trick and a trap. Love is a weapon.

Imagine how the oppression we’ve experienced impacts my ability to show up fully in love with anybody. Imagine me trying to trust in love. Now imagine me unconditionally loving the hell out of my mother and my grandmother and my children. That’s what diving deep into Interchange is doing. I’m so very in love with this community dedicated to transformation. To being real. Like, really real. Do I want to overcome oppression? Totally. Do I want to do it alone? Absolutely not.

A Request from the Sweetest Man I’ve Ever Known (Guest Post)

Img_00059Dear Men,

Please be sweet to the boys in your life. You do not need to toughen them up, there are enough TV shows, movies, video games and other men who buy into hyper-masculine patriarchy to teach them that sort of thing.

I implore you to teach the young boys in your life to learn their emotional landscape. Teach them to cry while holding their heads high. Teach them that it is not a crime to desire affection from others. Show them that it is not weakness to empathize and be graceful with their power. Men, I’m asking you to show more of yourselves than was shown to you.

I know it is hard to give gentle sympathy for the little bruises, both physical and emotional that the boys suffer, but we deserved that then and they deserve it now. We are human, they are human, and we can show them how to become men who do not hold in the pain that erupts into violence, bitterness, and isolation.

I ask you to honor the boy you once were by being gentle and emotionally encouraging to the male children in your life.

Thank you,
Makana M. Grant

The Gift of Speaking Clearly

There is power in speaking directly. Learning how to utilize a declarative tone of voice has helped me navigate tricky situations throughout my life. I am grateful that I have the ability to say exactly what is on my mind and convey my thoughts clearly. I feel like teaching our children to communicate clearly and effectively is super important. For my sons, I worked really hard to teach them emotional literacy. “Tell me how you are feeling” I repeated over and over and over. I asked them this question without an expectation that them telling me how they were feeling should make them stop feeling. I just wanted them to be able to name the feeling they were having while they were experiencing it. Often they were feeling more than one thing at a time and I would help them list those feelings out.

“I’m feeling angry!” 

“And?”

“I’m feeling sad!”

“And?”

“I’m feeling tired”

“And?”

“I’m feeling stompy!” (Stompy was a feeling I named when the boys were little, sometimes we just needed to stomp it out, you know? And in my house, stompy and hungry were often paired together.)

It’s hard to teach kids things we ourselves were not taught, but it’s worth the struggle. Sometimes it’s the shape of the void that is the teacher. As a young parent I was feeling around the edges of my own incompleteness so that I could offer more to my sons. Emotional literacy felt pretty big.

Deep breath, yes, that’s a heavy admission to make publicly. Inhale, exhale.

So… yes with the direct language! Yes with speaking of our own experiences with authority! Yes to declarative statements!  Yes to eye 39201_10100104800720323_1109204_ncontact and squared shoulders and equally enthusiastic no’s and yes’s! And I hope we all have the patience to deal with toddlers and teenagers who test their abilities on the people closest to them. It was hard at 3 and 4 to listen to my kids tell me exactly why they hated wearing coats in the middle of January and it’s not really any easier hearing them say similar things ten years later. Seriously. Jackets. It’s winter, why are we even having this debate? Sigh.

It’s an interesting thing to see my kids use my tone of voice and my declarative way of speaking. It’s even funnier when they try to use it on me. I tell them I’m immune to that particular super power since it originated from me. Something I’m really glad I took the time to instill in them is that we can’t tell other people how they are feeling. We can only speak to our own emotions and then ask someone else how they are feeling too. I didn’t want the boys to be know it alls. That slippery slope was always a ride ready to be taken. Balance, right? We can speak with authority about ourselves and our experience; we have to ask other people about theirs. 

Right now in this moment I’m learning a little more about being attuned to my loved ones without having this fear of overstepping. There is a nuanced clarity involved. I am going to name what I’m seeing. I’m seeing this feeling in you, is that right? It’s a new kind of balancing. I feel good about learning how to give this kind of attention because I have a solid foundation of not assuming I know how people are feeling. It feels like a new gift to give. A way of paying attention that is intimate and special but also requires skill and vulnerability. 

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to teach this to my sons too. And it’s also entirely possible that they already know it and I’m just catching up to them. They’re smart like that.

 

 

Owning the Awkward

If I had a dollar for every time my kids said, “Mom, that’s so awkward!” I could fund universal childcare for us all. Since they’re teenagers now, I can look back over the years and see how awkward has evolved. Cuz while the exclamation is the same… what provokes it has changed.

Me dating is no longer awkward (it totally once was) but me talking to them about them dating? SO much awkward. And yet, we have a template. Tackling the awkward head on is what our relationship is built on. At each stage, of both their development and my own, there is “teh awkward” that we have to face, discuss, own and in some ways obliterate.

I want to stress that one families’ awkward can be another families’ easy and yet another families’ straight up traumatic. The matrix of our history and current situation create the framework that our awkward defines itself within. What’s easy for you to talk about off the cuff with your kids may be something that I would need to do with the help of a coach to discuss. It’s all relative.

Having on open and ongoing age-appropriate conversation about sexuality with your kids is crucial to their wellbeing and safety. One way they know it’s an important aspect of their lives is that we are willing to face down the awkward. My strategy has always been to own the awkward. Call it out, claim it. And then do the damn thing anyway. Sometimes I’m the only one with the bubbly gut over a situation. Other times, I’m totally non-plussed by a subject while their ears are turning red. Either way, I have to say, “This awkward and this is how we’re gonna get through it.”

In my house, we’ve been talking a lot about gender and the cost of not conforming to the binary. And I’m grateful that, for my teens, it’s not an awkward topic. They can see that it’s fucking tragic that kids get kicked out of their homes for being trans, or get beaten and abused, or commit suicide. We’re talking about how to be supportive to any of their friends who come out as trans or who don’t identify with the gender binary. What’s awkward for me is that I have to be honest with them and say, “Yep parents are abusive to their own kids because of gender.” That shit sucks. Informing your children about the cruelty other children experience is fucking awkward. And necessary. And tragic. And scary.

Being real with your kids about child abuse kinda makes talking about periods and how babies are made no big deal, right? Easy peasy. Talking with your kids about sexual assault? AWKWARD. But if you’re going to teach them about consent (…and you’re going to teach them about consent, right?) you have to include that part of it.

What I really want to impart upon you, fellow Awkwardian, is that talking to your kids about their 4691_791953586513_1247099_45324321_5253646_nsexual health, or gender, or consent or pornography is going to be awkward and you get to do it anyway. As parents we are constantly modeling behaviors; how we handle awkward topics and conversations is most likely how they will handle awkward topics and conversations. And we’re also who they compare other people’s reaction to awkward situations to. Consider yourself the Royal Ambassador to Awkwardlandia.

 

 

 

 

 

Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary

2014-02-12

Have you ever wondered how revolutionaries are made? Like, no really, when I read about someone who dedicates their life to making change and I always think, “How in the Hell did they come to be where they are?” It’s quite a gift to be able to have that question answered in real time. Polly Whitaker has a memoir out that is more than just a recounting of her life, but it is also the memoir of a moment in the sex-positive movement. The first time I met Polly Superstar in person she had her own float in a parade in San Francisco. I’m sure she wouldn’t say it was her float, but rather it was the float she helped organize to represent her community in the civic festivities. But c’mon. It’s Polly. To me, the float was hers and she had earned every sparkly square inch of it. In the years since, I’ve gotten to know her as a brilliant and brave woman. Thoughtful and insightful. I’ve always enjoyed the brief moments in between our hectic schedules where we have a chance to compare notes. Now, you can have that exchange with Polly too.

Polly isn’t a parent, but her own parents and the story of her childhood are major themes in the narrative. This bit, I really loved:

polly_2“Aged five, I took a trip to the National Gallery in London, accompanied by my father’s first wife Marjorie—a very traditional woman, the total opposite to my mother. In the quiet whispering rooms of this classic museum of art, I faced a huge canvas of a naked woman surrounded by nymphs and satyrs, giving herself over in communion with Bacchus. I looked up and asked in a very loud voice, completely inappropriate for the surrounding volume of the gallery, but totally innocent in its tone: “IS THAT WOMAN A SEXUAL MANIAC?” Marjorie had no reply for me. She looked down, mumbled something about not wanting to miss the Constables, and pulled me quickly through to a room filled with landscapes. I went home that day and drew anatomically correct pubic hair and nipples on all my dolls, aghast at their lack of accuracy.”

Polly’s mother was a sex therapist and her father a balloonist. Maybe a perfect combo to make a sex culture revolutionary? Note the patch on her jacket… “ballonists make better lovers.” Sort of exemplifies her parents sense of humor! I asked Polly is she ever considered following in her mother’s footsteps. She said: “No, I’ve never been very academic. I’m an artist and I’ve always known that. When I was a teenager making decisions about what to do with my life I didn’t think about a career. I wanted to be a rockstar. I followed my heart and refused to compromise. Sex therapy sounds like a lot of work. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how connected I am to my mothers work.”

It seems Polly’s parents were sex-positive before being sex-positive was cool: “I was raised without shame around sex. I know that makes my experience pretty unique. Questions were answered when they came up, in simple terms I could understand. I was never fooled or mislead or lied to. My parents raised me with a very encouraging, liberal outlook and raised me to think for myself, be responsible for my actions, and appreciate the value of friendship. I think they did a great job.”

_MG_2867I think they did too! I really enjoyed reading this heart felt and brutally honest memoir. I’m grateful to be included in the book tour so that I can support more honest conversations about sexuality in our culture. You can check out the other reviews and interviews of Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary here: http://www.pollysuperstar.com/virtual-tour/ 

 

This post is part of the Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary Virtual Book Tour. If you make a comment in the thread below you’ll be automatically entered in a chance to WIN a LIMITED EDITION signed hardcover copy of Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary.

The comedian Margaret Cho called it “Raw, untamed, emotional beauty–Polly is a true supernova. This memoir is as touching as it is hot, as moving as it is a masterpiece.”

blogtourHEADER

Buy your copy of Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary bit.ly/pollybook

Join Polly’s mailing list bit.ly/pollyslist

Check out Polly’s website pollysuperstar.com

Follow Polly on Twitter twitter.com/pollysuperstar

Get updates from Polly on Facebook facebook.com/itsmepolly

Click the image below to check out the other exciting stops on the tour.