The MoMs

I performed this piece at The Horse’s Mouth Storytelling night in Lexington, KY. You can watch it here, beginning around the 12 minute mark. I would also encourage you to listen to the other fabulous women sharing stories around the theme Mothers And Others. It was a wonderful night!


Today is my 30th birthday. Five years ago I was celebrating with my best college girls. They assembled this amazing brunch on our kitchen table and held my babies while I feasted. Babies. It was still shocking to say. I was 25 and somehow had 6 week old twins. These women who had been with me through every transition and change of our adult lives were with me now – caring for us, feeding us, showering us with gifts – but something had shifted. My whole world had shrunk down to fit within the walls of that tiny apartment – the couch where I spent my long days and the bedroom where I spent even longer nights. My friends bubbled with news of life beyond, catching me up on their work and relationships and hobbies, weekend plans and upcoming special events and I just sat there eating french toast while my milk leaked through my dress, realizing that things would never be the same again. For weeks I had been trying to learn the new rhythms of motherhood, feeling overwhelmed, incompetent, and lost. I thought a day together would restore me to my old self, but instead it made the distance between our paths even more pronounced. I missed my old self, I resented my friends for their freedom, and I didn’t know how to explain any of it.

As time went on I grew more confident in my mothering – learning how to tandem nurse and occasionally time their naps together so I managed an hour of peace – but I couldn’t seem to launch us outside the walls of our fortress. Visits from friends became less frequent. The loneliness grew heavy, and I felt helpless to free us from our captivity. The first time we tried a walk, just the three of us, we made it to the sidewalk before my daughter was screaming so loudly I feared someone would call the police, assuming I was hurting her. A few weeks later I powered through the screams and made it to the house of a “mom friend” a few blocks away. I sat, exhausted, on her couch until I had the energy for the return trip.

(Did you know that women lose their identities when they become mothers? I didn’t. Friends with kids quickly became “mom friends”, or “charlie’s mom”. You meet someone at a park or playgroup and nobody even asks’s your name. You’re just someone else’s mother, everything else about you now irrelevant in the face of your new all consuming tiny dictator(s).)

The first time I tried to attend a “mom group”, my kids were nearly 6 months old. We were late, because: twins, and when I rolled our massive stroller full of screaming children through the silent building I felt every head turn to stare. I deposited my still screaming children with some nice old ladies in the nursery and  forced myself to go sit with the energetic, well dressed women drinking coffee around circular tables. The speaker that day encouraged us to prioritize making ourselves presentable for our husbands. You know, make sure you don’t “let yourself go”. I was too exhausted to be outraged. We went home early.

I did have one outlet that was just for me. A podcast called The Longest Shortest Time. Every week the host/producer, Hillary Frank, tells stories about parenthood that are honest and vulnerable, stories that reflected her un-shiny experiences as a mom who felt like she was always screwing things up, always failing to follow the “right “advice, always stretched to her limit. She interviews ordinary parents about all the crazy, ridiculous expectations, the mythology of “perfect parenting”, the loneliness of all the posturing and pretending everything is fine. She started a facebook group for her listeners – parents desperate for a judgement free space to share honestly about their experiences. It was exactly what I needed.

While I nursed in the dark, lonely hours of the early morning, I mined posts for insights about the weird new things my kids were doing, asked all my rookie questions, and vented about how hard it all was. I felt instantly connected to people across the country and around the world who were also stuck in their tiny apartments, people who also felt disconnected from their old friends and even from themselves as they learned the new terrain of parenthood.  

One day I came across a post from a woman asking if there were any other parents of multiples who wanted to commiserate. That thread turned into a group of women who would become my closest companions on this journey – mothering me through the darkest parts of those early years, helping me to see the light beyond them.

Of course, it started timid and cautious: we were all sweet and clever and started our posts with “not to bother you all, but…” or trying really hard to be funny and upbeat. But the veneer of politeness didn’t last long. We were all just surviving, minute by minute, and we didn’t have the energy or time to be cute. We bonded instantly over our parenting failures, exhaustion, non-existent sex lives, and endless kid illnesses, and also over the magical moments of kid love – we were all in the thick of it together. Nobody was less than. Nobody was smug. We were just radically for one another.  

Our guiding rule is non-judgement – if you don’t agree with the philosophy of the person posting and can’t find a way to share your ideas without judgement, go ahead and scroll on by, that post was not for you. And maybe it was just our desperation for connection that kept us in line, but it worked! And as our friendships grew, so did we. We held space for the important work of re-imagining ourselves. Who were we, and who did we want to be, beyond this new role? There is such power in naming our secret dreams, longings, and ambitions. It’s the first step in fleshing out the path that will bring them to fruition. In these conversations, I regained my voice as a woman and a writer. I found courage in the brave women around me, and in weekly check ins and off the cuff messages we cheered each other along, each step of the way.

There are so many jokes about moms and facebook, about social media as a meaningless, phony, time wasting sphere. And I get that. I know there’s plenty of posturing and sanctimonious advice giving and unhelpful shaming that happens online. It can definitely highlight the worst of our humanity. But it’s also this incredible tool that allows us to reach across miles and cultures and work schedules and religious/political/insert-your-divisive-issue-here differences to support one another in the minutiae of everyday life. I have come to think of it as a sacred space. And when we tend it well – reigning in our insecurities and judgments, opening our hearts to learn from others – it serves us with beautiful connection.

Last year I got to meet some of those women in person at our first ever conference. I use the word conference loosely – we rented out a fancy old home on airbnb, stocked up on wine and snacks, and bunked up for the weekend. But it was a big deal – an attempt to bring to real life what we had been cultivating online for years. Leading up to it I was so anxious, it felt like I was going on a first date but worse – these women already knew all my neuroses, all of my greatest failures and biggest dreams and I needed them to still like and support me when this was over! But I shouldn’t have worried. The embrace of someone who has seen and loved you at your worst is a gift I wish I could give every parent, every person that I know. These friendships forged in the fires of early parenthood have forever changed me. They have shown me that vulnerability shouldn’t be rare in friendships. That it should be the core of how we connect – sharing our truest selves in a crisis, in the mundane, and everything in between.

As an introvert, I find it exhausting to do this in person. It’s much easier to pour my heart out from the safety of my couch. But there’s nothing like that moment when you finally take a deep breath and reveal a dream or confess a weakness and the person across the table lights up and says “Me too! I thought I was the only one.” I hope to live a long life collecting those moments. They make me feel alive, reborn to the possibilities of growth and what could be. These “internet moms” have given me an enduring optimism about cultivating space for those moments to bloom, no matter how many awkward first friend dates I have to persevere through to get there.

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❤ 

 

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Thanksgiving, a practice of gratitude and grief

We are watching the parade this morning, snuggled up all cozy on our couch while the cinnamon rolls rise in the oven. The announcer wears big fuzzy ear muffs, sitting at a desk covered in flowers. She flashes a brilliantly white smile and says “Friends, family, love. That’s what thanksgiving is all about. A time to think about where we came from, how we’re all connected. Did you know you can learn about your ancestors with this easy kit…” *cue ancestry dna advertisement* This fades into commercials advertising all the black friday deals, then zooms back to a close up of giant Tom Turkey and two jolly looking people dressed up as pilgrims.
Sigh. Today I am struggling with the tension. The chasm between the wonderful family memories I have of this holiday, the joyful moments I am sharing with my own children, and the horrible and ongoing slaughter, oppression, and erasure of the 567 indigenous tribal nations this holiday commemorates invading. Our colonizing mythology runs so deep sometimes it’s hard for me to learn the truth – not just because it’s uncomfortable but mostly because I have such a hard time dismantling the american myths I’ve always believed to be true.  It’s all confusing and complicated and I don’t know how to hold it.
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Yesterday we escaped to the mountains and spent the afternoon in wonder. We marveled at the power of water to carve out the amazing natural bridge and the towering rock walls. The trees that stretched hundreds of feet from the mossy floor up towards the sun. The filtered light. The quiet. It was like descending into another world. Another time. A thin place. We stopped and sat on some fallen, moss covered logs and imagined the people who called this land home hundreds and thousands of years before us.
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We read aloud this piece by Layli Long Solider. She taught us about the Dakota 38. How Lincoln slaughtered them the same week he signed the emancipation proclamation. Another piece of the history I am complicit in, but did not know. Her words hung like the mist, seeping into our pores.
But then the kids were expiring and we still had almost a mile of ground to cover so snacks were doled out and jackets re-zipped and step by step we carried this complicated, painful story and our questions back up out of the canyon, back across the beautiful Kentucky hills, back home.
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I don’t know how to hold these stories. That is my privilege. I carry only my own grief, tell only my own history. That is the way of my people – our culture the definition of egocentric. Slowly, with humility and with practice, I am learning to submit to the voices of those who have been living on the margins for generations. I am learning from their wisdom, their rich traditions of storytelling, their healing practices, their communal rituals of remembering and lament.
Today I hold the tension. I teach my children to hold it too. Today we will cook recipes that share our family history, and we will cook recipes that share the story of the Sioux. We will tell them stories about the dark history of our nation and the people who lived here before us. We will play with legos and ride bikes and watch movies and do crafts. We will pause and light candles and hold space for remembering and lamenting.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful benediction I read this morning.

“May you remember we are all on stolen Indigenous land and speak truthfully of the past and present.

May you lean into hard table conversations about white supremacy, LGBTQ affirmation, feminism, and more.

May you honor your own needs.

May you practice engaged patience for sustainable change-making in the areas of your privilege.

May you not food shame yourself nor anyone else.

May you bring in those who are left out.

May you be nourished in body and soul, whether alone, with friends, or with family.

May all the sources of love, delight, and sacredness in your life draw near and fill your spirit with gratitude for the good that persists.

May you remember you are loved. That your worth is ineffable.

Blessed be your day, 
whether it’s hard or perfect or messy or ordinary
whether you’re lonely or surrounded by beloveds
whether you’re angry, grieving, or content.”

And this gift:  Layli Long Soldier’s powerful words, spoken here in her own voice.
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bullets, break ins, and learning to tell a better story

A few nights ago, sometime after midnight, Drew shook me awake. I opened my eyes to see him crouched down, peering through the curtains. “Did you hear those gun shots?” Soberly, we watched as police cars arrived. “You’re sure you locked the doors?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. We laid there in the dark and I felt small and vulnerable, alert to every sound. I fell asleep comforting myself with the thought that no bullet from the street could reach my sleeping children in the next rooms. Our bed, our bodies, the walls would stop them first, I thought. And there’s no such thing as random violence. I inhaled and exhaled that thought until I passed out. The next morning I googled our street name and “shooting” and found a little blurb about 10 bullets and nobody being injured and footage from a neighbor’s security camera showing two people running past but without enough details to find them.

Then yesterday I got a text from a friend that they were robbed while she was at preschool drop off. They live just around the corner. They had just moved in the day before.

I am full of grief and rage, a potent mix that exhausts me, quickly stalling out into fear.

It’s that fear that has me sitting here, shopping for security cameras. Fear that convinces me that spending a few hundred dollars on video surveillance will stop an intruder even though the data shows that a few motion activated flood lights and secure locks are the most important thing. Fear has me anxious to be home alone, searing into my brain the factoid that most robberies occur between 10am and 3pm. Every noise I hear is sinister, suspect. Every stranger walking down our street becomes suspicious.

So I’ve got 20 tabs open, skimming between DIY systems I can buy on amazon and the traditional companies that have “money back guarantees” and even several hip newcomers – millennial targeted start ups that repackage the promises of safety into sleek apps that claim they can put peace of mind in the palm of my hand.  I’m comparing costs and data storage plans and cameras with night vision and reading posts about how to mount the camera so it sees everything but isn’t easy to reach. I wade through the buzz words and phrases, trying to understand which are descriptive and which are simply catch phrases : “Smart home”, “Night vision”, “Deep Encryption” “Bullet Cameras” “Total control” “Fortress security”

One even says, “Can be used as baby monitor”

This one breaks me, first into laughter at the thought of a precious infant under such strict surveillance, then into tears at the kind of world we’ve accepted we are becoming. I wonder if we’ll still be able to see our neighbors with this network of artificial “security” fencing us in. In my heightened state of awareness, it’s already harder to humanize the person who pauses in front of my home. Will it be any easier knowing we have a virtual “shield” between us? Is that the cost of peace of mind?

And then there’s the literal question: what is the actual price of peace of mind? I know there must be dozens of marketing firms doing complex data analysis to answer this question, to set profit goals and launch marketing campaigns that capitalize on our anxiety. But I would like to know, specifically, what level of peace of mind will $244.95 actually get me? More than the peace of mind amazon is offering in their “buy more and save bundle” – 4 cameras for $78?

I consider the fact that the average system costs more than I paid for my laptop. That we own nothing of any value – all our electronics are at the point of “only charges with that one cord if you blow on it and then hold it just so”. So what am I so anxious about securing? If peace of mind is directly correlated with purchasing power, we’ll never be able to afford it.

If someone chooses to break into our home, my peace of mind will be shattered along with the glass. It will shake me, an act of violence that feels deeply personal. Violating. And, at the same time, most burglaries are under 10 minutes start to finish. Smash and grab operations. Usually nobody is home. Intensely impersonal to the person ransacking our home for items of value.

The lure of fear is powerful. I want the fantasy of “security” that it offers. I want to believe that we can put sturdy walls between us and the brokenness of the world. A fortress against pain, walling out needy, broken neighbors. But it is only through embracing my neighbor and sharing the weight of their burdens that any of us find peace. If I really wanted to lower the risk of crime in my area, I would advocate for a better distribution of resources to my neighbors in need. I would know their names. I would listen to their troubles.

What if this whole notion, this whole industry is built upon the myth of self preservation? What if this myth is actually driving the violence in the first place? What if those who steal are doing so because they are so convinced that security lies in things, in quick cash. I wonder if our security fences are the biggest confirmation that they are right.

Instead of an ADT sticker in my window, I wonder what would happen if I put up a sign that said,

“We don’t have much, but we are happy to share. All you have to do is ask.”

or

“We’re on food stamps and medicaid, but we do have a tv if you’d like to join us for a meal and some binge watching.”

Would that deter an amateur and re-humanize a hardened criminal? Would it melt my icy, fearful heart?

(To her credit, Evelyn has already posted something like this on our front door. She tells me it says “All Halloween people, even witches, can eat our candy”.)


To be clear, I’m not trying to diminish the heartache of violence. The fear we feel after our bodies or our homes have been violated is real and dehumanizing. I still remember the gut punch when, years ago, my backpack was swiped from an  event I was helping to run. My laptop and camera were sitting out on the stage, untouched, but my dirty backpack containing my wallet, $0, my ID, and my old ipod nano full of jesus music was snagged from under a table. I was supposed to fly home in two days and the stupidity of it all was infuriating. Why didn’t they ditch the bag when they realized it was useless? How was I going to get through security? Why would one person do this to another? I’m a broke student, giving her summer to volunteer at a nonprofit. Why target me?

But that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? These notions of security insulate us from each other indiscriminately. The walls we erect between us and “the other’ we fear work both ways. We’re all afraid. We’re all throwing up walls, intensely suspicious and fearful that someone is going to come and take the little peace we’ve carved out for ourselves.


Last weekend I was at the Evolving Faith conference. One of the speakers, the artist Propaganda, challenged us to learn to tell a better story about our enemies. To tell stories that humanize, stories that combat fear with truth-telling, stories that change our narrative about how the world works by disrupting the old assumptions with new understanding.

The stories of the break in and drive by are frightening. They say that bad people out there are trying to get in here, to hurt us and rob us of our stuff and our security. They tell me I need to purchase the power to scare them back, to build walls, to threaten. They tell me this is the only thing those criminals will respond to.

Let’s tell a better story.

My neighborhood is experiencing a difficult transition. For many years community members have seen their wages stagnate, their health decrease, their access to affordable healthcare, childcare and food dwindle. The neighborhood school is under-resourced and under performing. Wealthy white people are seizing upon foreclosures and the properties of elderly neighbors who cannot keep up their homes, rapidly gentrifying the community. This stress and friction sometimes erupts in petty theft and vandalism with an underlying current of fear as strangers come in and tear down and force change.

These neighbors have so much to teach us. I watch them look out for each other on the neighborhood facebook page. They catch runaway dogs and return them. They warn one another about suspicious activity, they check in on others if they know an elderly parent had a surgery or needs other assistance. They hire each other for odd jobs and are especially supportive of young families looking for work to make ends meet. They do community art and beautification projects. They are proud of their large park and community space. They speak up when there is danger to others. They even put out handmade signs to remind drivers to slow down and watch for kids.

This better story reminds me how little I have done to invest in my community. It reorients my focus from battening down the hatches to flinging wide the doors and making sure the porch light is permanently on.

And, you know, I think I will make a few small window signs that welcome neighbors to ask if they are in need. A small, practical gesture of hope, a posture of welcome. I definitely need more of those in my life.

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practicing opening our doors with some Halloween s’mores

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