Friday, May 30, 2014

Not a Pretty Girl, Part I

I meet him at a Yule party I attended with a friend. We flirted a bit, and he kissed me with the help of a clove studded orange (a supposed old Yule tradition where you had to kiss the person who handed you an orange filled with cloves). I didn't think much of him after the kiss. He was fairly attractive but there was something to the cold indifference he exhibited that was a turn off. I was not confident in myself but not so insecure as I had been when I was younger. I didn't see him again until a month later we both attended a Twin Peaks marathon party. Neither of us were interested in watching T.V, and we went to another room to talk. We had similar taste in books and music and come to find out in sexual proclivities so I went home with him. The next morning as I was getting dressed, needing to get to my friend's house so I could make the Greyhound back home, he said "I just want you to know this was a one night thing. I don't want you to get any ideas that it meant anything more." And I paused in buttoning up my oxford shirt. I felt the color flush to my face in a hot rush of shame. I should have been angry but instead I was pushed back into the space of the not pretty girl. The girl who was good enough for a quick fuck but not for an actual relationship. Not good enough to be the public eye candy that hung on a man's arm. As I walked back to my friend's house, I carried the sting of a rejection I didn't even care about. I had zero interest in dating the man I had just a rather blah sexual experience with but I still felt the old slut shame creeping up on me. Once again, I chastised myself, you have jumped into bed with some guy. What's wrong with you? He thinks you're gross.

When I got back home after that weekend, I went on another diet. I was already smaller than I had been for the last five years but a little voice whispered "It isn't enough." I spent hours examining myself in the mirror. I thought about growing my hair back on the sides, dying it something a little less out there than my usual midnight black. I remember a guy friend once accusing me that I was purposefully making myself ugly. The stinging words of the guys I lived with hung between my reflection and my eyes. Lester. From the Adam's family. I didn't even warrant Wednesday. Instead I was the ugly bald male uncle. Not even female to their eyes. An ugly figure made to be mocked. Someone to be fucked in the hidden darkness of night, or in the vapors of a drunk urge. Nothing more.

During the awesome Twitter storm with the tag #yesallwomen these feelings, that moment, came back. A woman had written a tweet that said "I don't know of any women who hasn't been raped, abused or sexually harassed" and some man wrote back "You must not know any fat girls." This time though there was no shame. Just anger. Throughout this whole conversation which is so vital I have found little challenging the ideas of beauty. There are a lot of tweets from pretty girls about being harassed at bars, work, etc. Being told they weren't smart because they were pretty. My experience has been very different.

People don't believe that I have been raped and sexually harassed. I was raped when I was fifteen at a friend's camper. We were drinking with some older guys, and I was very drunk. At some point one of the equally drunk guys began to grope me and I feebly said "No" and tried to push him off. It didnt' work and at some point I just gave up, moved to some part of my brain that could be separated from my body (it was something that I as a fat girl was used to doing for a variety of reasons). When I tried to tell my friend what happened a few days later, she refused to believe that the guy would even want to have sex with me. I was too ugly for that after all. The guy didn't acknowledge my existence when I saw him in the days that followed. I learned then that I was too ugly to say no. The expectation was that I should be gratefully for every sexual advance made toward me, and for the next three years, I lived my life with that idea firmly planted in my mind. Meanwhile furthering the label "slut" that was hurled at me in the grimy hallways of school. Little did most of these people know that I didn't want to have sex with 98% of the men I had sex with; I just didn't feel like I deserved to say "No."

I didn't get hit on at work. I was never sexually harassed on the job. I never had students hit on me, or ask me on dates. At least in public. Those things happened in hidden places away from the eyes of others. I never dared to tell people because I was afraid the reaction would be that of my friend "Who would want to hit on you?" So I endured just as the pretty woman endured because I was afraid that I wouldn't be believed. But my feeling came from the fact that there was something wrong with me. No one would believe me because I wasn't pretty enough to be sexually harassed.

I do not write this as an attack on pretty girls. They suffer in a society that has very rigid standards of beauty. I write this as a way to began to shift the conversation to a closer look at our narrow standards of beauty. Women like me are often dismissed from the conversation because society deems us not sexually worthy and thus not "real" victims of sexual abuses. I wonder how many girls like me suffered sexual abuse in silence feeling that we didn't even deserve to be victims.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothering, a Verb

I became a mother (noun) almost fourteen years ago. One minute, I felt like I was feeling faint with the exhaustion of trying to push this tiny alien being from my body, and the next minute, they were placing a tiny burrito wrapped human into my arms, and saying "Congratulations Ms. Stickney you're a mom." And it was pretty surreal and over-whelming. The suddenness of becoming this thing, this mother, this person responsible for this tiny rather homely creature left me almost shocked. The early pictures show a woman with a scared wild look to her eyes as if she might be about to jump and run for the nearest exit. But he won me over pretty quickly. My love was undeniable. Passionate and fierce. Love, however, is not enough to care for a tiny newborn. There are other things like fortitude, patience, persistence, the ability to run on five hours of interrupted sleep.

Mothering, verb,  does not come to one just because they are a mother. And some times mothering, a verb, comes and goes. I was not good at mothering when my beastie boy was wee. I have many regrets, and sometimes I still am stricken with guilt at how I behaved towards him. I never stopped loving him but sometimes the acts of being a mother got caught up in my own immaturity and selfishness. Sometimes I just had had enough and didn't have the help or resources to ask for help or to know what to do. Poor boy was the first and the test drive so to speak. And I am not saying this to heave more guilty upon myself. I am human thus broken, thus imperfect. I am not saying this to suggest that a mother should subside their identity into that of their child. I don't think a child deserves a perfect life anymore than they deserve an abusive life. There is pain in that attempt to hit perfect for all involved. Rather I am saying, that for me, mothering was something that came with practice. It was something that while it grew through my acts of parenting also grew as I became more knowledgeable, more compassionate, more attuned to the divine (whatever you may call it). Mothering is a constant evolving manifestation.

In the darkest moments after my diagnosis with Jude, I was scared that I would not be the mother she deserved. I had read the many blogs about the super moms who had children with disabilities. They were frankly intimidating. They spoke of isolation, hardship, and the patience to endure. Patience is not something I have in abundance. I am terrified of being isolated. I didn't want to suffer, and I am no good as a martyr. Everyone around me seemed confident in my ability to mother Jude but I didn't have faith. I laid in misery thinking about all the horrible things I had thought about Down syndrome. I feared selfish awful things that bring me great shame to recall. Clearly, I thought, as another awful thought boiled to the surface, I am NOT the person to raise this tiny life. I don't want this burden, I'd moan, to God.

And then one day when things were quite dark, and I had cried for hours, I read something about bringing our  brokenness to God. I laid it out there; lining up the pieces. And I realized that it didn't matter. That Divine love doesn't care about how broken we are. Or maybe that this love is there because we are broken. There is no despite. Our perfect is not what is desired. Mothering is about loving not despite of but because of. I don't love stop loving my children when they are screaming at me, or breaking my things, or giving voice to things that I find dreadful. So it is with the Divine. My brokenness, my mistakes, failings, sinfulness, crud, is not a deterrent to love. Rather it is in the face of those things that I am the most human. The most able to learn, to reach someplace new, different.

What it came down to is that there was no one better to mother Jude. She was my gift. My last child. After 13 years of giving birth, nursing, changing diapers, wiping noises, cleaning up puke, holding a child who is seizing on the floor, dealing with blows, things thrown at me, I had come full circle to Jude. Mothering Jude would likely entail some new learning moments (like realizing my own Ableism) but parenting ALL of my children was a hilarious mixture of  new learning moments. I had messed up often with the beasties who came before, and I would mess up with Jude. And it would all be okay because I would keep muddling forward in this act of mothering--this breathtaking venture of raising up other humans to go into the world.

This morning, I sat down to brunch, surrounded by the people who center my universe. I am a different person than I was when they thrust that tiny bundle into my hands. When they handed me Jude, I was reminded to that first moment when they placed my son in my arms. But I was not afraid. Not stunned. I thought "Well I've got most of this covered, and I'll learn the rest." I remember how when the sun came up as I nursed her and took some time to fall in love, that this was not a burden.  I remember at times feeling like mothering was a great burden, and I remember how I felt this would be surely the case with Jude. Please let this burden pass from me God. But it mothering is not a crucifixion. It is not the bearing of the world on your chest. Instead it's a gift to us all. Or perhaps it should be a gift. Mothering is not the same as a being a mother. Mothering is an action that anyone can participate in. It's a push, a reminder to guide to be compassionate, to love, to hold out a hand to the fallen, to feed the hungry. We give this gift to not just our biological children but to our adoptive children be they small or grown. We give it to the homeless guy on the street when we hand him fruit. We do it when we hold a friend who is weak and hurting. We give it every time we remember that we love because of the brokenness not despite of the brokenness. And most importantly we must remember to mother ourselves. To push ourselves to better thoughts, to higher places, but also to love ourselves when we sometimes fall.