Friday, April 29, 2011

Off Days

Yesterday was Piper's turn to have an off day. Everything set her off from rolling out of bed (on her own time I might add) to having to choose something at Smelly Cat instead of the nasty old convience store down the road. There were lots of tears, silent ones, that broke your heart a bit. Defeated. She'd hang her head, shuffle behind us, as fat tears slid down her checks, her hair partially hiding them from our view. These moments are not quite as annoying as they are sad. They are not the full out toddler meltdowns with lots of screaming and limb kicking. Instead these seem to be the emotional overloads that I can utterly related to. I have those moments where everything just seems so sad, so against you. Like life is rubbing you raw with steel wool.

I commented to H that this was Piper's day to lose it, and he said "Yeah when you have four there is always one. When the good days align together it's like a miracle." And this is true for us. I see some families were it really does seem like that alignment comes often but for us it's rare. It made me realize that I need to pay attention more to those moments and hold them close like the rarity they are.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


One of the strangest things about starting to write a memoir is the attempt to give one's life a theme.

My life is a series of chaotic events loosely tied together by the fact that this body is somewhat the same body I was born with, and the fact that there are reoccurring characters. These incidents filled with messy randomness don't comb down neatly into a story. Instead they are an unruly mass of events that don't always make much sense. I am not sure what my life's theme would be. I am not sure what the hook would be to lure people into reading about my life homeschooing the beasties. When I lay awake at night, I try to organize those moments into a story that makes sense. I try to build up a foundation. But that foundation doesn't always feel all that stable.

In the last two weeks, I've been through several themes.

Theme 1: Joy. While going to graduate school was hard, I still back upon it as one of the happiest times of my life. I loved the freedom that H and I during that time. We worked hard but it felt like so much of that work was done in the midst of each other and the kids.

I sort of nixed that one because it's just so common place. And it's big. I suspect the joy will manifest itself in my writing.

Theme 2: Survival. The two things: school/homeschooing feed off each other in terms of surviving each. They provided a balance that made the other thing more bearable during rough times. When I felt like I might strangle a little beastie, I could escape to school. And when school was making me want to sob in a dark corner curled up in a fetal position, I had the beasties to remind to be present in my body.

This theme is still on the drawing board.

But for the last two nights, I've been thinking a lot about how having children has made me present. School was good but it's not good for feeling centered in one's body. In fact, it's one of those things that makes it quite easy to forget (or pretend) that one has a body. But the children need that body for their needs. Sometimes quite literally in terms of breastfeeding. The children gave me a base upon which to spring off in other areas.

Next step? Piecing these random events into some kind of sequence while being aware of a theme. Life is not fiction, as Alice Bloom reminded us so often.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

The other day Camille was in the store with H. At the check out line, she was reading a loud the magazine covers including the issue of People that names Jennifer Lopez as the most beautiful woman in the world. Camille looked up at H and said "Well that's lie. Mama's the most beautiful woman in the world."

Of course this comes at a time when I feel about as beautiful as a turnip. When I look in the mirror all I see reflected back are rolls of fat topped by a wrinkled tired face. I turn my head when passing a window or a mirror. I hate putting on clothes, and hate shopping for them even more. Thinking about my looks makes me want to cry. Things are so bad that I find that I don't even want to make an effort. Everyday it's more of throwing on comfortable yoga pants and a BIG HUGE tee shirt and just hoping that I can slip through life unnoticed.

And then my daughter thinks I'm more beautiful than J-Lo. 

What's happened over the last few months to make me feel this horrible about myself? There are times when I feel like I've been catapulted back into middle school. The crippling self image that comes from an unhealthly obsession with one's own body is something of a flashback nightmare. I have no way to view myself with any kind of realistic expectation. And it's not a fun place to be, nor a fun thing to deal with when you have girls who listen to your words and WHO THINK YOU'RE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN J-LO.

Perhaps its because I am getting older. Losing weight after this birth was much harder than it was after Piper. Those young women whom I am friends are sad that they are five lbs away from their goal weight and I sit in silent self-loathing as I see my goal weight as their fat weight. 

But really what it comes down to this is this: I started hating on my body again. I am caught up in a vicious cycle where I say things out loud and online that I wouldn't say to my worst enemy. I have become my own personal mean girl. She jeers at me when I try on clothes. When I eat something fattening. She compares me to younger, prettier mothers and sneers at my stretch marks. She holds me to expectations that are impossible and when I fail them she mocks me while I try to soothe myself with French fries. I am never good enough for this mean girl who silently urges me to just give it up. And so I do.

The difference now is that I have these lovely daughters. And I think that if anyone said to them what I say to myself, I'd want to kill that person. And I realize that if I keep saying these things to myself, out loud or in the privacy of my head, my girls will develop their own mean girl. This mean girl will be more vicious then any mean girl they could ever encounter. She will introduce them into the cruel ritual of never being good enough. How can I want this for my daughters? How can I bequeath upon them this mean girl? 

It is time to weed this girl out. Time to realize that if I was the disgusting creature I think I am that I would not be married to such a hot man with these beautiful children. Even if they are only the best of me that part exists on my body. It is time to see what Camille sees when she looks at me. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another One...

When H first broached the subject of another baby, I was like "No way." I had lost all the previous baby weight, and was frankly enjoying not having someone constantly at the breast. I was enjoying have a bit more freedom in terms of my own body. And while I was just as moved by H by the deliciousness of baby beastie pictures, my ovaries were not crying out. But H kept at me, and the idea was planted. And I woke up one morning and realized that the only thing holding me back was weight. A week later, I was pregnant with Baby Beastie.

That pregnancy flew by (until the very end where it was more like "GET OUT NOW!) in a hazy bliss. This was what I had always imagined pregnancy would be like for me. I felt goddess like, beautiful and tuned into the growth inside me. Each day was just this wash of pure joy. Perhaps it was because I had almost lost all of this due to my own insecurities. The amazement that this family, this love, these moments were still mine was intoxicating. Each second of each day was like a small gift. Even the hard moments of frustration and impatience were moments to be held close because they had almost not been.

Her birth was nearly perfect. The slow build up to that earth shattering moment when you catch a glimpse of that veil which separates us from creation. And oh the look on H's face when R came to us in this world. I knew without a doubt that all was forgiven. We belonged to each other, to this family, and now we had a physical presence to remind us of that bond every time we looked at her lovely self.

And now a year later, R has become a person. She has grown into her soul.mischievous, energetic, chatty and bright, with her eyes always sparkling. The sweet promise of the future lies on her breath as she snuggles, in sleep, against me. I try to slow down time as I hold her pressed against my body. This year was so fast. I wanted it to end so that we could begin our next adventure. I hate H's job and I know it's hard for him as well. He longs to be freer and to do the work his mind is suited towards. But I also wanted to slow down and savor R's moments, her first moments in life on Earth. The dilemma of moving forward and living in the present was always upon me. And now we are here, a year later filled with tears and joy. There are no regrets...only more joy.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Room For All

I read Virgina Wolf's poignant essay "A Room of One's Own" when I was an undergrad. Likely around 24 or 25. At point, most of my space was, well, my own. It seemed quite clear to me that a woman could not create unless she was a lone with space carved out to belong to her. In her solitude she would create as men create. The monastic image was strong, and it was an image that is repeated throughout both the world of art and study. One can not create unless one has a cell in which to worship either art or academic theory. Without this cell there is nothing.

And I held that image close, vowing to always have a space of my own come what may. I held it, that is, until I started my master's degree. At this point we had three kids, in a two bedroom apartment. There was no space for me. I wrote papers on the floor while I nursed Piper. I read theory while at the park with half an eye on beasties running amok. I wrote my thesis at coffee shops distracted by the human drama playing out at the table next to me. Sometimes I longed for space that was mine but there was no solution. Anything better would be unaffordable. The sad irony was that in order to do what gave us pleasure we had to expect a smaller scale of living.

When we finally were able to move a bigger house, we were so used to living together in a common area
that we didn't really adapt well to sitting at a desk in a quiet room to work. I finished my thesis on the living couch surrounded by the beasties and H. That felt right. I ended where I had begin. A venture that started in the home life and ended there as well.

Now I am wanting to honestly put forth some effort into my writing. I don't know if I can make a living from it. Likely not. But I feel that I am put that part of myself off for a long time, and that now it's time to give it a chance again. I can not deny that a part of me wonders if there is a way to write, well, without that room. I worry that I didn't get into a program because everything I did was half assed because I was always half distracted by the chaos of my life. I never wrote anything without some kind of noise, questions, minor explosions happening about me.

I worry about these things as I type, nursing Rowena, with the keyboard precariously balanced between a boppy pillow and my knees. It is not comfortable, and I have to stop every few second when the keyboard slides down or R kicks me in the neck. If that's not enough, there's always Piper with her five year old chatter begging me to do go to see the chickies.

As I began to envision our little house furnished, I fret about this room. And this in turn makes me ponder the possibility of being an artist and a mother. I feel that I being asked to choose just as I was asked to choose when I was an academic. Can I write and still home school four beasties? Do I just shelf the writing until they are older? Do I shelf the mothering so that I can write? Is it possible to write what is in my head with any kind of beauty when I am answering questions about poop?

And then I get angry because Woolf wrote from a position of privilege. Yes, I know she had many issues but you know what? She had money. She had the luxury that so many women at the time did not have. Money and space. What would happen if instead of challenging women's right to have a room of their own, we instead challenged the bourgeois assumptions about how and where art should be created? What if we asked ourselves what would art look like when a mother creates it in the midst of chaos? What if we really honored the idea that women could be mothers and artists? Mothers and workers?

Because the reality is that even now we are not supported in our multiple roles. We are allowed to be one thing at a time. We are not given the resources needed to be either thing very well. And when we try to create in the spaces of where we are, our work is dismissed as "mommy writing" or "crafts." The reality is that most women I know are too poor to afford spaces of their own to create in so we make do with what we have. Perhaps we need to continue the fight to haul art's ass out of the world of the rich and smack it down in the middle of life.

My art is not always pretty. Often it is hasty, chaotic, filled with errors. But it is art that is created in the vital pulse of life. My writing is always done in the center of joy, love, frustration. It is made in the midst of bodily functions like shit and piss. Poetry is created in between loads of dirty diapers and tiny bright pink clothes. I develop characters while I scrub oatmeal from dishes. I type while I feed my baby from my own body. I bounce ideas off with my partner while we push girl beasties on swings or walk with them through lovely woods. My art is not solitary or privileged. It is art in the heat of living.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Year of Pleasures 13

This guy right here. He's sexy, smart, and a great dad. He's my best friend. When it really hit that I wasn't going to be doing a Ph.D program, at least in the near future, I feared that I H would not want to be with me. A big part of our life together has been a shared love of the academic. I was scared that he would want someone else. But it was a silly fear. We have a shared love of so many things, and the academic is only a part of that love. Throughout all this change, H has been my rock, as always. He has reassured me. Held me. Given me strength. Reassured me.

H is quite simply the foundation of joy.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ginger' Farm

Now H and I are not into property ownership at all. In fact, it's almost become a point of honor for us to have a family and not own. We do have many philosophical reasons for this, as well as practical reasons. Our extreme leftist leanings (dare I say the C word) make property ownership a complicated matter. We don't believe that we have any right to own this kind of material, etc, etc. And then on the practical level...well we move a lot. And we don't really know where H is going to end up after the Ph.D. We've always known that we don't want to live in Charlotte, and despite having been here for 11 years this has always been a temporary stop for us.

But now...well now we are moving to a place that we both love. Each time we visit, it just gets better and better. And suddenly we're wondering if this will be the place we end up. H noted that a lot of the professors did their Ph.Ds at UGA so it is a possibility. And we find it a very pleasant possibility. So we started the discussion about buying. It's still a tentative discussion, and it involves lots of financial planning which we are not good at for various reasons. And of course it's dependent upon H finding a tenure track position in the area...and this is all several years down the road...

Yet last night and this morning, I started to browse real estate. And I found this farm. It's perfect. The house is eccentric and beautiful. I love the windows, the wood stove in the living room, the wide open kitchen. I love the cozy bedrooms and the little nooks upstairs. There are garden beds, and a hen house and a greenhouse.  The big outbuilding would be perfect for company. There is room for animals. Horses and goats. I can imagine myself here for a good long time.

Funnily it's not the life I imagined for myself even last year but today it seems just right. Now to scrape up 400, 000.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Year of Pleasures 12


I am scared of what the future holds, and there is a certain discomfort that comes from having no clue about what I'm going to do next year or for the rest of my life. But there is a pleasure in this wide openneess. There is a playfulness in being able to imagine oneself in all kinds of different roles. I feel like a child playing make believe as I indulge in "Maybe I could be..."

Last night as I walked, I thought of myself in about 10 different careers.

Monday, April 04, 2011

At the Bus Stop

Today, insulated in my van with the air conditioning blowing, I stopped at the traffic light that is adjunct to a bus stop. Two men were talking. They were an unlikely pair. An old white guy with longish white hair and beard. A baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. The other man, young, black with a do-rag and earphones. They were laughing as they waited in the sweet breeze for the bus to haul in front of them.

I thought of a friend who had meet someone on the bus. Someone who became a friend of his wife, and whom I meet a hike. A wonderful person. And I thought of that meeting might not have happened if he drove to work like almost everyone else in this city.

And I wondered how my own world would look, I talked to random strangers at bus stops. If I unplugged myself from the insulation of private transportation. What stories would I be able to share if I sat at bus stops, and talked to unlikely strangers?


The beasties haven't been getting much in terms of formal education but as always they blow me away with what they do on their own. So often they just need a nudge from me. I am still not an unschooling convert but I get closer. I don't think I'll ever be a radical unschooler but I do think that when you give children a nudge and work on their own interest they are quite capable of doing things on their own.

So here's a taste of the girls' beasties projects of late.

A couple of friends recommended "My Neighbor Tortoro" which was a big hit with the beasties (and us!). Camille and Piper were immediately inspired to make lots of drawings. The top cat is Camille's work and the bottom two pictures are Piper's drawings. They also spent lots of time thinking about what it would be like to have Tortoro as a neighbor.

And as noted in my last post, we've been reading "Little House on the Prairie" and the girls spent most of Sunday morning playing covered wagon. They turned their bunk into a wagon, and Rowena into "Baby Carrie." They gathered all their toy pots and were cooking up mush and prairie hen hash before too long.

Umberto is still a hard one to please. But I did come up with a good idea, and H with another one. Between the two of us we might be able to get him more excited about slightly more intellectual pursuits. I'm going to introduce him to fan fiction to feed on his interest in all things Halo. H suggested that when he plays games that have a historical bent to push learning that era. So he got a game on the "Wild West" and sure enough is now super excited to learn more about Westward expansion. I'll keep everyone update on this all pans out.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Why Don't You Like Indians, Ma?"

For the last three days, I've been reading Little House on the Prairie to the beasties. I have fond memories of this book, and all the books in the series. Memories of creating covered wagons from bunk beds. Building log cabins from fallen branches. I longed to travel in a covered wagon. To build a homestead with crops and animals. It was, and is, a very appealing vision. As a friend commented to me, "They're basically the DIY books of that time period."

But as I read, I kept finding myself stumbling over racist images of Native peoples. Again and again. Ma doesn't like Indians. Ma has heard they'll be opening up Indian Territory soon to the settlers. Indians are red savages with Tomahawks. Pa knows about Indians because he knows about wild beasts. It's horrifying even when one knows that the books are dated. I find myself, stopping, and giving the beasties history lessons: "You know it was horrible when they opened this territory because this is where the Natives lived and we killed them to get their land." I talk to them about racist imagery and how problematic it is. And yes these are all good lessons but I do sometimes wonder if I should be reading these books to them. It's the problem with the classics (which is whole entry onto itself).

What bothers me is that I did not REMEMBER this racism from when I read the books as a child. I read them to myself not as a read aloud. There was no one to say "Whoa Ginger, that's a pretty horrible thing to say about another human being." I never questioned the imagery as either good or bad. I just soaked it up. And to me the fact that the racism is just an aside is what makes it so damn dangerous. When racism is presented in such a casual way it's easy to just kind of glide over it.

This kind of insidious racism presents "otherness" as almost natural. When a book's main focus was racist I did pick up on that as a child. But when it's just part of the background, you just don't think about it as much. It's there, nothing to worry about, folks, just keep reading about prairie life. I have to wonder now how much that books contributed to my ideas about Natives, and about settlers. Or rather how I could fantasize about moving West without ever pausing to think about what happened to those who already  lived in the West. I know when I was 15 and playing "Oregon Trail" I never stopped to reflect much when my wagon was attacked by Indians. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that the move West was a violent move both physically and culturally. Not only were bodies destroyed in the destructive wave of white settlers pushing their boundaries but Natives became symbolically pushed to further and further boundaries of what it meant to be human. And this violence lies in all the Little House books.

When I sit and read these books to my children, I find that I can not let this racism lie. I have to speak on it. I do not want this "otherness" to become naturalized to my children. Perhaps they will carry with them fond memories of play but also memories that such a time was not innocent and idyllic.