I Know Why You Don't Understand but It's Okay

When I was in the 5th Grade I bought a shirt that said "The Weaker Sex Just Kicked Your Butt!" I felt powerful wearing that goofy little $9.99 wonder.  I was out there, taking a stand! No one at my small, conservative Catholic school could stop me, because it didn't say "ass" it said "butt" (which might as well have been the C-word in those days and times).

Ah, the power of speaking your mind.  I didn't actually know that women could be referred to as the "weaker sex" until I saw that shirt. No one talked like that. But once I knew this was a thing, I was pissed, and I needed to show that. On a shirt. At my school.

My folks must have let me do it, and I'm grateful. It was an early introduction into the world of wearing what you stand for on your sleeve (literally). And walking around with it, and knowing that other people might judge you or make fun of you (which happened) or just casually silence you. I needed this lesson, though I didn't know it. I needed this toughening up.

When I was in the 11th grade I was sexually harassed at school. A boy walked up the stairs and put his hand under my butt and slid it along as he walked past. At first, I didn't think it had really happened. My first instinct was to doubt myself. (Revision: my first instinct was to believe in the goodness of other people.) He must have done it by accident. He was on the track team with me. I looked up in shock and waited for him to look back and laugh. "Look at me, Blake!* Say something stupid so I can punch you in the arm and we can laugh and this will be just be a dumb joke."

But he didn't look at me. He just kept walking. So I just felt scared and silly and dismissed it.

Until he did it again. Later that same day he touched me again, and this time his hand lingered on my butt a little longer, it was more grabby, more brazen. In a moment, I realized (a) I was not wrong about the first time, (b) he got away with it once so he thinks he can do it again, and (c) I want to curl up into a ball and disappear.

I did not "kick his butt." I did not punch his arm. I cried out, "He did it again!" My voice cracked. And then I ran into my track coach's classroom with a friend trailing behind. And I cried and cried and shook with fear. The idea of going back out into the hall terrified me.

It was not the reaction I had anticipated.

When I young, I played basketball on the playground with the boys. They hadn't invited me. I just wanted to play so I made them let me in. I enjoyed these little acts of defiance, and I recruited my girl friends to join in too. One time I stood in the way of the P.E. teacher who was only asking boy students to come up and demonstrate the football positions. I demanded to be seen. I dared anyone to try and exclude me because I was a girl.

But in the track coach's classroom all I wanted was to disappear. I felt gross. I felt like someone had pulled my pants down. I wanted to step out of my skin because I was so, so gross. And all the damn crying. The tears poured out. I looked back a few days later just dumbfounded. I didn't understand the reaction then, and I didn't understand it as it was happening. It would be years before I'd understand, or hear other girls describe the same kind of thing.

Why didn't I kick his butt?

I didn't have that shirt any more. I'm not sure what happened to it.

Within days this boy had been suspended. The administration took care of all that. I don't remember having to tell my story to a bunch of people, I think they all believed what had happened and they took it seriously. But other kids didn't. They didn't know. Blake wasn't just ON the track team, he was a STAR on the team. Kind of a strange, quieter guy, but lightening fast. I could see how people wouldn't believe he'd do anything like this.

In English class one day I saw a boy sitting across the room from me wearing a shirt that he had made himself. It said "Bring Back the Falcon." The Falcon was Blake. Then I saw that there were others too, with shirts or pins saying the same thing. They didn't believe me. (Revision: they didn't know. They truly did not know what the eff they were doing.)

To this, I reacted with sadness and a bit of anger. I mean, fuck these guys. I didn't need this. I didn't ask for this. I didn't get the kid suspended. What was I supposed to do? I really did not know. It seemed like I had done something wrong, I got that feeling. It registered (you selfish girl, why did you punish this talented young man?) Only I was at a total loss to explain what I had or hadn't done.

Because I couldn't. Because it had been done TO ME. Me, the victim, only I'd never seen myself as a victim. 

What could I do? I could throw my hands up at them, tell them "I can't DO anything! This wasn't my fault!" I could skip school for a while, let it blow over.

I could have put on my energetic, young feminist hat and reamed them out for being dicks to a victim of sexual harassment. But that girl was not there. Not even close. I was still afraid, still shaky. I didn't want to feel that way. But I didn't get to choose.

It's been seventeen years since this happened. The fear is still there. I still don't understand why it was fear and not anger, except that I lived it, and through that experience I do understand. I get it in a way that can't be reduced to words. My heart reacted, perhaps, because it understood exactly what that boy was doing. It wasn't just a touch. It was an invasion. It crossed a line of consent, of respect, of recognizing that I was a person whose opinion about what my body would and wouldn't do, mattered. He didn't look at me. He didn't do it by accident. He thought he could get away with it.

I'd like to tell you that I'm glad I took a stand. But I wasn't. If I'd known what would happen, that they would wear shirts and mock me and disbelieve that I'd had this painful experience, I would have stayed silent. I would have asked them to let me stay home and keep Blake at school.

Does that make you sad to hear? I'm sad about it. I'm pissed about it.

But now I am ready to speak this truth. I understand why they mocked me. I understand they didn't have a goddamn clue. A minute before it happened, I didn't have a clue either. I would have wondered why one little touch would reduce me to a crying, panicky mess. Why would one incident send a track star home on suspension? Couldn't they at least let him practice with the team? Was it that big a deal?

I didn't have a clue what I'd do in a situation like this. Victims don't kick ass. They cry, and hurt, and feel terror and shame. That's normal. And lots of people don't get it, sometimes I guess you need to live through it.

Now before you give up on this hopeless mess of a sad story, let me remind you: one person did believe me. Coach Nelson believed me. He never doubted it. He looked into my eyes and heard my words and went straight to the principal's office and did the right thing. He didn't pause for a second. And don't forget, this track star was Coach Nelson's track star. We lost the next track meet. It didn't matter. I mattered. Doing the right thing mattered. I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but I've never forgotten. Bystanders can be so powerful, they have more power than they know.

Coach, wherever you are, thank you. May the world be filled with people just like you. May we all believe in the goodness of people.
-----

This is a story I've been mulling over for some time, and especially during this 2016 election season. Donald Trump brought sexual harassment to the forefront of American conversation and appalled us with his words and actions, but the result was that we elected him and ignored the bad things he'd said and done. I feel like I understand all of this so well, and it goes back to these incidences I had as a teenager. I know why Trump doesn't think it's a big deal. I know why the women didn't speak out then and why some of them don't speak out now and why some of them do. I know how they felt and how they feel now after being ridiculed.

We should be ashamed of looking past these actions and electing him anyways. We should have stood up for these women, and stood up to Trump. I believe that with all my heart. And yet I also believe in the goodness of people. I don't think cluelessness makes you an evil person. I believe people deserve a second chance, including the American people. I believe we can make this right. 

 

*Blake is not his real name. He knows who he is, and I truly hope that he finds peace.
 

Dealing with Massive Blows to your Self Esteem: A 30 Day #hmvlifechallenge Update

It's that critical time in the 30 day challenge. Around Day 20, when participation drops off, and feelings of "WTF am I doing?" set in. Am I accomplishing my goals? Does anyone notice or care? Is this even worth it? It's not a great time to be hit with a big blow to your self esteem. But nonetheless, I was hit.

In keeping with themes, here were some of our recent themes. They eerily lined up with this self esteem thing:

  • Day 17: Selfie
  • Day 18: Inspiration
  • Day 22: Confidence 

Ugh. So I've been the recipient of some harsh criticism. The details are not terribly important, it was a confrontation at work, some misunderstandings and I don't know...personality conflicts I suppose.

What to do now? I'm supposed to be living and blogging about getting fit and feeling great. I do feel pretty great most of the time. I did. Now I'm all butt hurt and weepy and I want to go hide in a bag.

The thing about this challenge is that it's got to give me some transferable skills. By which I mean, strength. And confidence. It's not enough to get strong and feel encouraged when things are going well and all my friends have rallied around me. What about when these 30 days are over? What about when no one is rallying and I'm on my own and something happens that just sucks?

At that critical moment I need some of this strength I've been working on. Not just muscle strength, but you know, strength. I feel confident doing hard workouts. My body is getting stronger, my resilience and endurance have improved. All of this transfers to the person I am inside. I mean, it has to! Otherwise what are we even really doing? Losing weight is great (incredibly grateful for that, trust me) but after the pounds are gone I will still be here and I'll still be me.

And there will be more sucky moments. I can't just crumble. I can't necessarily gather my friends and people who tend to agree with me and say, Look! Someone was mean to me! Make it better!! (I mean, I "can" do that technically, but you know... it might get old after the 27,000th time.)

The point is to build up some armor. So I'm trying to do that. I'm creating my own little well of confidence that I can dip into when I need it. It's easier said than done. Despite all the positivity around me, I hear this voice saying "hey you're not that great, maybe you had this personality conflict because your personality sucks and no one likes you! HA!"

Not helpful, little voice.

The 30 day challenge is nearing the end. I'm starting to think about where we go from here. It's been a fun journey, and my team of amazing friends are truly the very, very best. And so am I. Here's a selfie to prove it.



Deciding to stay positive this late in pregnancy

Two completely un-profound things happened recently that have changed my perspective on this whole "being pregnant" thing. So I figured I would write about them. It's been a while since I've written and why not? Sometimes you need something small and mundane to push you in the right direction.

The first thing was this little moment that happened before I dropped Jake off at work. I had a tiny contraction (short in duration, but packing a pretty hefty punch). I started to cringe and whine and ughhhh... and Jake just kind of jumped into action and walked me through it.

"Breathe."

"I am breathing."

"No, with your mouth, like this... Remember?"

"Oh...yeah. Ok. [moment passes] Well, have a good day at work!"

So it wasn't like, earth-shattering, but it started this idea rolling in my head. And the idea was this:

STAY STRONG

Or more accurately, "Stay strong, you freaking wuss! This is going to get so much harder - you will WISH you had that tiny contraction back when you're 13 hours into labor on no sleep with this extra 30-some pounds we're packing around! Because this shit is real!!" (My inner critic is such a delight.)

But I needed this reminder. A couple weeks ago I had just the faintest *inkling* of a contraction along with some back pain. It lingered for a while, and the first thought that came to my mind was "Oh my gosh I'm in labor I can't do this I'll never make it I'm getting an epidural." Then it was over. So perhaps a slight overreaction. And a huge wake-up call.

This time around we are not taking birth classes, we aren't re-using HypnoBabies (although several techniques and ideas will be stolen from those materials), and we aren't planning for a natural birth, necessarily. This flies in the face of most everything we did last time, and I am very much at peace with that. But that doesn't mean that I want to be reaching for the magic epidural wand at the first sign of labor. No no noooo...I need to do a lot of this on my own...plus the wand apparently isn't even a thing so whatever. (crap)

Focus up! Only 3 weeks to go!

So I decided I need to focus up and stay strong. I do my kegels, I walk tall and engage my core, I don't complain.*

*as much

And it has helped. Today I actually walked across campus from a work meeting whilst smiling. For real. Which leads me to the second un-profound realization I have had:

STAY POSITIVE

Earlier on this particular journey, I was suddenly hit with the poetic euphoria of the great Stevie Nicks.

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
— Stevie Nicks, Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

There are many lines of that song that speak to me, but I do not know what they all mean. And I kind of like that. Songs like this mean different things at different times, and this line about the seasons of one's life, well...it really means something to me now.

Because the seasons are a'changing. Literally, too! But mostly figuratively. I am about to have a baby and be done with being pregnant. Probably forever. My body will never grow a little being inside of it again. Do I really want to end this season of life with a bunch of negativity? I want to celebrate this, I really do. My body is amazing! But ugh, it gets hard.

How do I handle the seasons of my life? How do I deal with the fact that this is ending and that makes me indescribably sad? The door on this chapter is closing. But at the same time it is hard (physically) to be so pregnant and so heavy and so uncomfortable in my own body. I am done with the backaches and the shooting pains and the constant commentary of strangers. I look at Jake and I long to be able to decide when and when not to disclose personal details about my life. Like when I'm going have another baby and how many I already have and how I feel in my uterus area and how dilated my cervix is. (Actually, no one has asked that yet, but God help them on the day they ever do....)

I have this theory that God made pregnancy really difficult at the end so that you would embrace the opportunity of childbirth, rather than fear it. It was a pretty clever trick. And it's working.

If you consider the metaphor of seasons, that makes sense too. Summer gets so damn hot. At some point you're like, listen, I can do without the suntan and the bikinis and all that. Give me some colorful leaves, big scarves, and pumpkin patches and let's move on already!

It's a natural progression. It certainly helps that at the end of this season, I get to start a new one with a beautiful baby boy. I get to start a mother-son relationship that will never end. And I get to go to the gym and really work out again and kind of get my body back. Forever.

Not that I'm looking too shabby as it is...

image.jpg

(you get that it's a joke, right?)

(cause I'm huge...but also sexy as hell)

Maybe it's okay to NOT love your post-baby body

So let's talk about bodies.

Everyone is loving post-baby bodies nowadays. Even their own bodies at times. It's inspiring,  There are some really beautiful sites that are trying to turn the tides of mom-body shaming.

Start with Jade Beall, famous photographer who captured the most loving, beautiful and truthful photos of mothers I've ever seen.  My favorite is #5 in the slideshow on Huff Post

Photo by Jane Beall

When I first saw this, it really took me aback. Like ... whoa.  I mean, look at her! The first thing you see is how strong she is.  --Just kidding. The first thing you see is her stomach.-- That's ok. It is a very real stomach. But look at her arms. They seem so confident. And her legs too, like she isn't scared. She isn't shrinking away. The stretch marks on her right leg look tough. Kind of cool, even. I think that stretch marks remind us of what our bodies are capable of...and if we need the body to make room again, it can. It stands ready. She isn't hiding the marks, but she isn't putting anything on display either. You get the sense that her shoulders are perfectly poised and she is looking straight ahead.

After noticing all of this, I looked back at her stomach. It is actually quite strong. Her figure is so shapely. It occurred to me that if I had seen her fully dressed, I would have never known that she'd had kids. I might even be jealous of how fit she is.  (I would definitely be jealous of how fit she is.)

So, thank you, Jade Beall, for bring these strong amazing bodies into the light.

And thank you to sites like the Shape of a Mother too.  Beautiful stuff going on there. 

But now why don't I love my own post-baby body?

I understand in a conceptual way that our bodies are beautiful and delightfully different and flawed and that the whole idea of "flaws" comes from a patriarchal hyper-commercialized standard of beauty that no one can attain.  Except ... I still want to attain it. I do. Deep down inside I still kind of do.

This is dangerous. Lisa Jo Baker, a writer and blogger, explains that this way of thinking is heading to a dangerous place. She is right, we need to stop hating our bodies.

Because we are teaching our daughters to be thin at all costs, and it is hurting them.  Like, really hurting them.  Watch this video, and you will feel it.

Lily Myers - Poetry Jam - "Shrinking Women"

I will pause while you shutter.  (That was goooood, right?)

This is so important. So much more important than making peace with our frumpy bodies that don't look quite right. My generation has a self-esteem issue, and we are passing it down to the next one.

If we allow this mindset to go on, we will create a generation of shrinking women full of self-hatred.  It does not stop at the body.  It probably does not start at the body either though.

And I think that is what I struggle with. It does not start with the body because the body hatred comes from the standards of beauty which come from the media which draw from the system. And when you start to think about it and unravel it, it just spirals out into the great beyond so far that I start to go cross-eyed and can't remember what I started talking about.

If I want to help my daughter love her body (which I do, because it's like, awesome and perfect just the way it is), then I can't do it simply by loving my own body. I also need to stop all the boys at school from teasing her. I need to control what we watch on TV and get away from the never-ending reel of fat jokes on every single goddamn channel. I also need to stop her friends and aunts and grandparents from talking badly about their own bodies. Because she loves them and looks up to them, and she looks like them!

If I want my daughter to love her body, I need to figure out how to make a peace with my own body.  Do I need to love my own body? I'm not sure. I'm not convinced. It is a long, long journey from body hatred to body love. It is like, the length of 10 football fields and then some. How am I supposed to get there in the span of one lifetime, in the system that I have to live in too? I love looking at body-love websites. But as soon as I click away its all the same garbage on turbo speed: diet ads! Tummy minimizers! Look 30 lbs lighter in 30 days!!

So what is a girl to do...

I tell you what, universe. I will stop calling my body fat. In front of my daughter, in front of other women, in front of the mirror. I will stop grabbing at that weird pooch you left me with. I will try to remember that you made us delightfully different from some reason, even if that reason is dumb. (Can't I just look like Beyonce ONE TIME?! Then I promise I would be SO accepting of all body types.)

But I can't promise to love my post-baby body. I don't "love" it. I still feel kind of betrayed and frustrated. I'm not ready to make nice. Not just yet.

In the meantime, it will be my utmost duty to keep this a secret from my daughter. And who knows, maybe by the time she is old enough to ask me if I love my body, the answer will be Yes.