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Speak Up While You Can

It’s been awhile since I last posted. I realize now that the reason for this is not that I don’t have things to say but rather I’m not confident my voice is worth hearing.

This strikes me as sad. It’s true, I lack self confidence. I’m pretty sure to those close to me that’s never been a secret. But as an adult, as a person who is starting to really catch glimpses of the passage of time, I’m beginning to feel an urgent need to overcome this nonsense. I don’t have forever and before I know it it could be too late.

But why do I feel such a deficit of self worth? Is it simply that I care too much what others think of me? Sure, that’s a common malady and one that I most certainly suffer from. Is it merely that embarrassment is almost physically painful for me?  Of course, that would make one shy from being heard. Is it possibly that whole messy business of being raised a women in a culture that makes very clear, women are meant to be seen and not heard? Yes. Yep. That one.

I know it’s a tired subject for many. A cliche that turns off a crowd in an instant. But it truly affects how I view myself. And when I examine why this feeling of worth eludes me, I wonder if it comes from my failure to reach the standards that women are judged by.

Women are applauded for being beautiful, thin, sexy, without flaws, accommodating and without opinion. I know this not only from what I witness in the media but from my own experience of not being most of those things (I can say that “without opinion” is not my strong suit). Women should not be heard because they have nothing important to say, right? We are ornaments, and for those of us who are not attractive enough to be decorative, we are irrelevant. I was taught this. I am still being reminded of this. It affects how I exist. It affects my sense of worth.

I do not claim that it is men that have created this system. I think it is an established order held in place by both of the sexes. Women feed into it when they solely concern themselves with their appearance. When they willingly apologize for existing or having a challenging opinion. When they raise there children within these culturally enforced parameters, not allowing the growth that comes from new life to take us in another direction.

But, I want to break away from this. I want to say “fuck you” and live as an unabashed, unapologetic, free-to-create-and-make-mistakes person. I want to express my thoughts and not feel ashamed. If creating is the purpose of our lives, I don’t want to waste mine wondering if my creations are worth making. Is that even a question that needs to be asked?

So, painfully, I am trying to open myself up to….myself. I am a woman with flaws. I am not a supermodel, or anything close. I make mistakes, struggle against this life, have thoughts that are worth considering and hope that one day I can make a contribution that will help others. Because that’s the point of all this. I don’t want to miss out waiting for someone else to tell me I’m allowed to be me.

 

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Raising Secularly Religious Kids

I joined a church yesterday. I, the eternally “unchurched” finally made a commitment to a religious institution. It’s kind of a big deal.

It is a big deal. I was raised in a secular household. I’m the kid of parents who were raised religious and wholly rejected raising their own kids religious. My mother’s background is Protestant, my father’s Catholic, mine is a patchwork of familial glimpses of piety, an upbringing in a Jewishly influenced Catholic city (hello New Orleans!) mixed with a healthy dose of the scientific method. Religion wasn’t part of the conversation in my house. There was no mention of God, no ritual, no holy text. There was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter, and summer vacation each turn of the year, but no mention of the spiritual underpinnings of any of these “holy”days.

It is probably because of this that I spent the better part of my life seeking. Since I was 14 years old I’ve been on a quest to understand what I believe and to see if there was a religion that checked all my boxes. I’ve read a lot. I pursued a BA in Religious Studies. I’ve gone “church shopping”. But I’ve never been able to commit. Nothing feels right because at the end of the day I’ll always be a “none”. I still feel this way but now I actually hold a membership to a church.

‘What church?’ you ask. As it happens, the one I’ve (very tentatively) chosen is the Unitarian Universalist church. Now, before I continue, I want to make it clear that I don’t consider myself a Unitarian. As ridiculous as that sounds, I’m not that far down the road of commitment, but I felt I wanted to show my support of this particular church by becoming a member.

I came to this church through a interfaith mom’s group that supported me after the birth of my second child. It has been a great source of community for me and I’ve continued to attend slowly building relationships that have helped me grow. Then I decided to start attending services to give me some personal time as well as some social time for my oldest, who is now in the children’s choir as well. Then my husband decided to join a poetry group that meets twice a month. It started to become clear that this was our community.

As I’ve said, I wasn’t raised with any spiritual sensibilities and on a certain level I see this as a deficit. My husband was raised Catholic and even though he’s no longer practicing (or recovering as some would call it) I can see that he benefited from having a framework for his spirituality. I want my kids to have something. I want them to have a place where they can ask those big questions as well as the sense of community that accompanies being involved in a place like church.

It’s hard to raise your kids with a sense of spirit without a framework to base it on. There is no language to pass down to them as a tool to formulate thought on the eternal. There are no like minded others to share in the discussion. No rituals to mark important life transitions. You lack a sense of belonging. Now, I don’t necessarily think I’ll ever tell my kids ‘you are Unitarian Universalist’ but the UU church is the only place I feel like we can attend without being forced to make a proclamation like that. For years I’ve felt a heart tug toward Judaism. It’s such a beautiful religion and on a certain level it feels like home but I can’t bring myself to forgo all the other truths within the world religions to abide only in one tradition. You can’t convert to Judaism and still openly consider the Upanishads or the Tao te Ching to be sacred and no rabbi would convert you unless you promised to raise your children strictly Jewish, which I would be lying if I said I would. They will be raised exposed to many things and probably never told they are of one tradition. In UU, at least I know no one will judge our spiritual flexibility, or at least they probably won’t say it to my face!

Because of my upbringing, I want my kids to have the framework, the community, the sense that these are important and worthwhile pursuits. For all of religion’s failings, I can at least say that it has these things in abundance. These are not attributes to be scoffed at. There is a reason people have always returned to religion even with it’s imperfections. It seems that after years of searching, the UU church is the closest thing I’ve found to a secularly religious community.Yes, it’s an oxymoron but I think it’s also an attempt at capturing something valuable for those of us who can’t stomach the general intolerance and inherent insular nature of most organized religion. Am I saying that UU is exempt from human failings? Of course not, but so far it’s the closest thing I’ve found to the right track.

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How Many Babies Is Too Many Babies?

My husband and I talk about having a third baby.

My heart really wants it. My head doesn’t.

Before I ever had kids, I always assumed I would have two. I’m one of two as is everyone in my family. It just seemed normal to only have two kids (My husband is one of five so he was hoping for at least four. “NO WAY” was my answer to that). So when I got pregnant with my son I knew I would want a sibling for him. When he turned two I was pregnant with my daughter and felt great about it. Until I felt horrible.

I had a terrible pregnancy with L. I was literally sick until AFTER she was born. I remember reminding myself on the way to the hospital, “ask the doctor how long it will be after she is born until the nausea goes away.” Awful. On top of that we moved across the country when I was three months so we were in complete upheaval. It was hard. As was the labor. Another distinct memory I have is looking at my husband with desperate eyes and breathing, “I will NEVER do that again.” I was terrified and I meant it.

So, now I find myself with a five year old, a two and a half year old and a completely unexpected desire to do it again.

But, wait, I’m just now starting to sleep through the night!

I nursed both my kids until they were two and neither slept through the night until after they were weaned. So let’s add that up- 9 month sleepless first pregnancy, 2 years of nursing through the night, another 9 month sleepless pregnancy followed by another 2 years of night nursing. That’s five and a half YEARS without sleep. I’m a bitch when I don’t sleep.

Of course, this would lead any sane person to conclude that doing it again is the wrong path to take. Why would you do that to yourself?! Apparently, both my husband and I lost most of our sanity in the last five years.

Not only am I sleeping again, but I’m remembering who I am. I’ve lost all the weight. I have free time to pursue career oriented activities. My husband and I are getting along great. What gives?! What is this crazy urge to throw myself under the bus? Of course, babies are wonderful. My children are the biggest source of pride of anything I’ve accomplished. But two is enough, right?

Well, maybe. Except for that other one that is haunting me….

I know a lot of other women struggle with this decision. I’ve Googled it enough to know. It’s a decision that can significantly alter the course of your life (as having children tends to do). Right now, I could either pursue my career, the degree I paid a hundred million billion dollars for OOORRRR I could have another baby. Which will it be?!

Because, I’m not sure I can do both. When I have a baby I’m not that crazy-awesome multi-tasking work-from-home and also participate in a patient, calm, meaningful way in their kids lives type of mom. I’m the impatient, bitchy, have a meltdown most days from lack of sleep type. When I’m sleep deprived everyone knows it. And as much as I feel like another sibling is a wonderful gift to give your children, I don’t want it to be all wrapped up in the same package as Monster Mom.

But, then there’s the guilt. The guilt of choosing your own needs over your kid’s. Both my husband and I have expressed that we feel another sibling would be great for our kids and we’d be happy to have another person in our family BUT we really don’t want to do the baby thing again plus the whole financial side that comes along with three. But feeling that way makes us feel selfish. Is it? I don’t think so, but we feel selfish anyway.

I don’t know what will happen. It’s the worst not knowing but we have yet to make a firm decision. My heart is pulling me hard in the direction of “just do it”. I imagine myself looking back in old age at my life. Will I regret not having just one more baby? One more child to watch grow. One more sibling for my beautiful kids. Someone they could depend on when I’m gone. Because, I image in retrospect those first few difficult years will seem inconsequential.  But my head is screaming “NO”. “It will send you over the edge!” it shouts. “Your body will be broken, your stress level will skyrocket and your chance at doing something with your life will pass you by!!”. Is it right? I just can’t know.

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Caitlyn Jenner and Boys Who Love My Little Pony

I’m just going to go ahead and say it. I’m tired of the Caitlyn Jenner story. It’s not that I don’t support her or see the courage that it took to share her story with the world but I am having a hard time embracing the enthusiasm everyone else has for her. Like, I don’t think she looks “gorgeous” or “stunning”, words that are often generously sprinkled around her. In fact, I think she looks just like every other woman who’s had massive plastic surgery. Unfortunate. But mostly, it’s the focus on her becoming a woman through sexual reassignment surgery.

What does that really mean? What is a woman in the first place? Is a woman her vagina? Or her uterus? Breasts? Or wearing dresses and make-up? Can you really become a woman physically? Or is it implying that he thinks like a woman? That raises a million other questions.

My point is that through cutting, tucking, shaving and plumping she now feels her external body matches her internal gender but this route doesn’t seem like something to celebrate. Yes, we should celebrate her ability to become open about who she is. Yes, we should congratulate her on her bravery and recognize her by whatever name she chooses, and accept her in whatever clothes she wears. But I just can’t celebrate the surgical part. To me, it’s counterproductive.

I support the transgendered community. I understand they face something beyond ridicule. I know that they have high suicide rates because they are at a loss as to how to live in this world. And I see that those who step forward and transition publicly are humanizing a community relegated to the shadows. But I can’t help but think that stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s are making the problem worse.

Sex is defined as the physical parts you are born with, in other words, your genitals. Gender is, according to the American Psychological Association, “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.” The advocates of transgender rights also make this distinction. That a person, regardless of sexual organs, can feel and therefore be the opposite gender.

I have no problem with this. It seems like a completely natural human variation. Where I lose them is why a person would choose to surgically alter their SEXUAL organs to fit the other GENDER box. Aren’t the two separate things? Isn’t that the whole argument? Sex is not gender and gender is not sex.

Does a person who identifies outside of their gender have to change their sex?

Can you not be a man who loves make-up and manicures, or a woman who shuns all things deemed “female”?

What I’m saying is that I see the culture of sexual reassignment to be problematic, even dangerous. By removing yourself from the gender (or sex?!) box you were born in and resettling yourself in the other box are you not just reaffirming the boxes themselves?

The problem is how restrictive gender descriptions are. You are either female-like or male-like. By having high profile transgender or gender fluid individuals so praised for being sexually reassigned (which would presumably have no bearing on their gender feelings considering that sex and gender are not the same things) we are creating an environment where we proudly declare “The system works!! Clearly, you can only be either a man or a woman. There is no in between.” But there is an in between and many people fall into that unrecognized category.

It seems to me that instead of applauding only those who decide to alter their genitals or take hormone therapy, we should also be applauding gender fluid people who choose to break away completely from the boxes and live, exactly as they are. Completely unashamed.

People who, regardless of sexual organs, live whatever life, in whatever way suits them, cultural norms be damned. But I think this is harder for the general public because humanity likes categories and those people defy our cultural boundaries.

Andrej-Pejic-pretty

Andrej Pejic before gender reassignment

There was a “male” Australian model, Andrej Pejic, whose story I stumbled upon a few months ago, that completely floored me. The existence of this person broke so many mental boundaries for me that I was almost giddy at his existence. Here was a completely natural person who was born with a penis but was able to move seamlessly in the world as either male or female at any given moment. He modeled and walked the catwalk in both men’s and women’s clothing. Incredible…and beautiful, because this is exactly how he was born.

Exactly how this person should exist.

So, I was saddened at the news that Andrej has chosen to have sexual reassignment surgery. She is now Andreja and is a transgendered woman.

This is what I mean. Why couldn’t this person exist just as he was born? Why couldn’t he be a glorious example of the spectrum of gender? Why? Because of the vocabulary. There is no vocabulary to express who he was. He either had to be a He or a She and most likely he felt more like a she.

Of course, there is nuance to each persons story. Of course, there will be people for whom sexual reassignment is the best option. But for every one of those there are many who fall somewhere in between. And currently we have no language for them. No context for them exists in our culture, rendering them invisible.

This can go as far as even the recent trend of men (and boys) who love My Little Pony. I’ll tell you first hand, it’s controversial. I know because my son in many ways, falls outside of what is considered “normal” (or I should say accepted) for boys. He loves My Little Pony, wants to wear sparkly dresses with fairy wings and would love if Santa brought him a doll for Christmas. But as his mother, nothing about his preferences strikes me as weird. He also expresses many stereotypical “male” qualities like he loves all vehicles, bugs, getting dirty and anything that shoots. Yet, I dread the reaction he faces as he gets older and is confronted by those who cannot understand that boys can like pink or that an adventure show about female characters could appeal to anyone other than little girls. And I do think the gender stereotypes are harder on boys. My daughter can “be anything she wants to be” (although really she can’t but this is the rhetoric fed to girls) but my son must like vehicles, play rough and never EVER wear a dress.

The older my kids get the more I’m confounded by the issues of gender. And try as I might, I find that I’m still stuck in the binary of male or female too. But this could be largely an issue of vocabulary. If we had the words to describe the gender spectrum and consciously created the framework within gender identity politics to house the many human genders then they may be more easily assimilated into the overall culture.

If we could only focus more on the conversation of unfolding the binary gender culture, rather than parading sexual reassignment as the primary option, then I think the transgender community, and all of us, would be far better served.