Learning to Commit to Enjoying Moments

Posted on May 23, 2018

My writing, like many others things, is wedged between parenting, working, and trying not to neglect my marriage. It takes a backseat to fretting, battling pet hair, and unsubscribing from email lists. It is and has always been, the activity that takes me to my best place. I wish I could understand why it is so routine to postpone what I know I need.

 

When I write I become more than I am, stretching how I think and how I love, leaving me with what I can only describe as increased power. It can be like hand-to-hand combat as my fingers move across the keyboard and my mind halts them. I’ve gotten better at fighting my weaker self, overcoming doubt and climbing out of word ruts.

 

It’s been a few weeks now since the Mom2.0 Summit. This was the third year I attended. It’s a sublime experience with show-stopping keynotes, generous sponsors, roll-up-your-sleeves sessions, and permission to bring to center all that goes along with writing. The girls and Sean rally to make it easier for me to leave and sweet to come home, the same is true for the team at Trampoline.

A welcome home banner and my daughter.

Another parent told me early on that kids learn how to feel safe by being reminded that we come back.

I spend time with other women who are working within a similar wedge—multiple jobs, the division of labor (physical and emotional), writer’s block, and wondering about the what and how of what comes next. I also spend a lot of time alone staring off into space or working out to the point of collapse for a total reset. It is a boldly selfish act and I threaten not to do it each year because of the shame associated with wanting something for myself.

Standing with three other bloggers on the red carpet dressed up for the Iris Awards

Mom 2 Summit 2018 Red Carpet

This year’s conference was particularly significant to me because it represented a shift. Last year I wrote a post for Planned Parenthood. It followed conversations I have had at home with the girls about what it means to be cisgender, white girls and women—what we cannot take for granted, the divide between what is fair and what men get away with, and also how much power we can wield by using our voices. The post was nominated for Best Sponsored Content at the Iris Awards. I’d won the previous year in the category of Best Writing, so it seemed unlikely to me that lighting would strike twice. Still, I hoped it would.

A packed ballroom at the Iris Awards at #Mom2Summit

The view from the stage at the Iris Awards

The Iris Awards were held in a beautiful ballroom in the Langham Pasadena on a gorgeous Friday as the sun began to set. The event began after dinner. The lights came down and Laura Harrison Mayes and Carrie Pacini took the stage to kick things off in a wave of sparkle and euphoria. They introduced the MC, Taye Diggs, to great applause and fanfare. I waited backstage to present the first awards of the night with Jennifer Borget.

 

Standing backstage with Taye Diggs

An added perk of being a presenter was hanging out with Taye Diggs backstage

Later I hooked my arm around the back of the chair. The metal was cold against my underarm, which felt good. The fabric of my dress settled around my legs as I leaned toward the stage and took a breath. The awards ceremony was halfway through and my category was coming soon. I wanted to be ready to not hear my name and to be able to clap and cheer for the other name that would be called.

Brené Brown talks about foreboding joy, which is the idea that in moments of profound happiness or contentment we dress rehearse the tragedy or event, which will eventually squelch our joy. I was still buzzing with the adrenaline of having presented, the funny sensation of reading from a teleprompter, the people in the room jumping in and out of focus, and the vicarious elation with each winner’s joy. It felt good and yet, I was picking away at the joy.

A part of me felt like I should be ashamed to want to win, I’m not sure why. I tried to lie to convince myself that it didn’t matter, but it did. Then as I turned and let the metal press into my sternum I decided to give myself to the feelings. I mean, does denying them or being ashamed make them any less real?

I thought back to how it felt to write the post. I worried as I wrote about not being clinical enough or driven by statistics or backed up by familiarity with legislation. I took my own story, cased as it is in privilege, and wrote in the way I always have—unselfconsciously and passionately.

 

Three images, a toddle, a teenager, and a mother with three daughters

We go from baby girl to adult woman so quickly.

I saw the photos from the Planned Parenthood post flash on the screen as award show orchestral music played—me as a toddler, as a middle schooler, and then with the girls. I smiled up at us. I was ready, whatever happened, to keep writing.

 

I watched Wendi Aarons open the envelope on stage and smile. Then I heard her say my name and I sat up, pushing away from the cool chair and standing up to walk to the microphone. I was in the company of all the parts of me—mom, wife, daughter, writer, employer, teenager, college student, little girl.

 

Standing at the mic under spotlights with goosebumps on my arms at Mom2 Summit

I didn’t cry as I accepted the award. I wanted to be deliberate with my words and with my consciousness at the moment. 

 

Feel this.
Build on it.
Remember it.
Believe it.

 

I Never Wanted #MeToo But We Need It

Posted on May 9, 2018

I walked toward the office and tried to make sense of my emotions. I was able to smirk at the irony of the “Cosby Found Guilty” alert coming as I made my way across a parking lot where I feel unsafe. There is always a man smoking outside who leers at me, slowly taking in every inch of my body. It is an uncontested fact that my body is a visual buffet for men to sample on the street. When I say my body, I mean it for all women, we are involuntary dishes at a feast of insatiable appetites. It doesn’t matter what we wear. It doesn’t matter the time of day.

Black and white image of the shadow of a woman's body

The truth is sometimes it doesn’t bother me. I feel the looks and regard them as fruit flies or dust motes, nothing to do but wait for them to clear. It just is. Then other times my hands clench and I have to bite back the impulse to scream, “Stop looking at me you disgusting fuck. Move your eyes, this is my body. I am not here for you,” but I know better. I know, even today, that I would be the one considered to be in the wrong.

“Did he touch you?”

“No.”

“Did he verbally threaten you in any way?”

“No.”

“Can you explain how you were in danger?”

“No.”

“Do you think it’s possible you are overreacting?”

“No.”

“We can’t help you if you don’t have proof.”

The proof is in the way his eyes track my body, it’s in the way he steps slightly in my direction and holds my gaze, it’s in the way he won’t look away. It’s in the way he claims a kind of ownership over my body.

The threat is in the way that you never believe me.

The pervasiveness of men taking what they want from women runs from school campuses and medical examining rooms, to the Attorney General’s office and beyond. There are men who enjoy making us feel afraid, taunting us boldly with how little we can do, how we won’t be believed.

You Can Say #NotAllMen , But You Need to Recognize There Are Still Bad Men

 

Scary story of man purposefully scaring teenage girl by following her and staring to close to her body.

Image from Babe.net

I replayed the years I spent sprawled on the living room floor watching the Cosby Show with my family. I thought of the white cassette tape with the blurry black type that held Cosby’s stand-up routine. I think it was called “My Two Daughters.”

I loved Bill Cosby. I thought about the black families who loved him and needed his celebrity in a way I can’t know. I was so angry with him and I was angry with our country for finally believing his accusers. Why did it have to be a black man?

“Aren’t you happy? Isn’t that great?”

Umm, yes. Yes. But also no.

The marbled fury and regret move, but they don’t disappear.

If only I hadn’t gone there. If only I’d fought harder.

I wanted to join the chorus of voices on Twitter, but I couldn’t. I’ve been candid about my personal history with rape and assault. I’ve been vocal about rape culture and women’s rights, but I deleted tweet after tweet. All I managed was, “Thank you to the jury.”

There Will Always Be a Need for #MeToo

I allowed myself to sit with my conflict—until women came forward to defend Tom Brokaw. Character references for people accused of assault aren’t helpful. They are mechanisms for making people uncomfortable with the idea that someone they love or respect could do something awful feel better. They disallow the reality that people who do terrible things can also do decent things. When you defend the character of someone accused of something, what you actually do is say that how you feel and what you believe is more important than the person who had a different experience.

The things being said about Tom Brokaw are allegations at this point, another ‘he said she said’ to add to the history books. His 4 am letter of defense is more of the same:

“I was ambushed and then perp walked across the pages of The Washington Post and Variety as an avatar of male misogyny, taken to the guillotine and stripped of any honor and achievement I had earned in more than a half-century of journalism and citizenship.”

A half-century of journalism and citizenship doesn’t mean that you can do anything that you want. The thing so many of us struggle with is that you can be accomplished, decent, and moral and still do things that deviate from that. You can make wonderful comedy and also leave a wake of despair. You can hold the highest office in our country and help the disenfranchised and still take advantage. You can be brilliant and evil.

The unpleasant truth is that justice is not always going to feel good, as a result, we have to temper our expectations—of ourselves, those who’ve been hurt, and those who’ve done the harm.

Verdicts aren’t going to undo hurt.

It isn’t just Bill and Tom, Eric, Charlie, Louis—there will be more, there will always be more. Please try to take the time to figure out what you want to say and how you feel, because a knee-jerk, “That isn’t the man I know” or “I never saw evidence of that” isn’t really about the issue at hand.

 

It’s about you and sometimes the thing you need to do is think about someone else.

Time Breaks & Starts Over

Posted on April 18, 2018

“Promise we’ll have another fort at the next house?” the girls asked. It was 2010 and we were moving to fit our growing family. Two years before we’d built a play structure for them, adapting it mid-way through as, the then-toddler, Avery broke her leg and needed larger stairs.

Avery, age 2, and her purple cast. Briar hiding behind the canopy.

“Sure, we’ll build another one,” we said. The girls gave the fort a fond farewell and whispered that they hoped the next family would enjoy it.

The new house had a deep wooded lot and we decided to build the structure into the ring of trees. It took a lot of tinkering and reconfiguring as we anchored 4x4s into pine trees. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be safe.” The girls stayed close as we planned it, suggesting additions along the way.

“How about if you make a kind of ladder for us?” they asked. Sean found birch trunks and made a ladder of sorts.

 

“Can it have a slide?”

“And a climbing wall like before?”

“Oooh, swings. And could it have walls?”

It took us the better part of the summer, but we got it done. Briar immediately climbed along the outside of the railings and I realized this tree house was going to be different from the first. Finley was no longer a baby, Avery was more kid than toddler, and Briar was going into first grade.

The girls would gather dolls, tools, walkie-talkies and blankets and stop in the kitchen, “Hey mom, could you bring a snack plate out for us?” I’d coined the “snack plate” phrase one day when I realized that the Pirate Booty wasn’t going to stretch far enough for the girls to each have a serving. I put half a dozen types of crackers and assorted bits of fruit on a platter. Scarcity turned on its ear to options.

I loved watching them parade across the grass and toward the tree house. Finley would sometimes drop things and have to rearrange her arms. Eventually, she used a picnic basket or a briefcase to carry her things to the fort. They’d disappear for hours to play. There were windows through which I could see them moving and I’d watch from the kitchen. The idea that childhood rushes by had taken root in my heart and each time they played together it felt like time slowed. It was a fortress, but growing up happens no matter how you build.

Finley said to me the other day, “The shirt grew out of me.” She wasn’t ready to be done with the shirt, but she knew it didn’t fit any longer. I wish I could be as pragmatic, outgrowing still makes me choke up, even as I know it’s what we are all working toward.

Birthdays filled the yard with sounds, the backdrop of the fort and trees always drawing exclaims and “Let’s go!” from their friends. One summer night I added strings of solar lights and then gasped aloud when they began to twinkle the following night.

“It worked!”

The girls dashed outside to look and later that night we spread quilts out to sprawl next to one another as we watched bats swoop for bugs in the fading evening light. We played summer right into fall, gathering for campfires beneath the trees as the night air grew cooler. Then came winter—snowy slide rides, playing beneath the decks to weather the storm.

I’d pour my coffee looking toward the treehouse. The move had been good for us. This yard embraced us and gave us eight years of playing and loving. We’d outgrown our house, just as we’ve begun to outgrown this house.

When we returned from spring break two weeks ago our beloved treehouse was changed. Finley came to me. “Mom, I need to show you something in the backyard.”

“What is it,” I asked. She had a strange look on her face. “Is it something dead?”

She took a breath and put one finger to the side of her mouth, “Well, it was never really alive, but it’s definitely dead now.”

I stood up and we walked out toward the treehouse.

“Do you see how the curtain is blowing out?” She asked watching my face.

Then I saw it. A pine tree had snapped during a windstorm and fallen onto the fort, shearing off the backside of it. Two of the windows shattered, two did not.

Once again Fin was matter of fact. “We need to clean it up,” she said. “Can I help you?” I was still trying to process how it could be gone and how I was going to manage my broken heart.

“Sure, kiddo,” Sean said. She spent hours with us cleaning. Happy to be a part of it and gleefully picking up pieces and toys, “I remember this! Can we save this?”

We took truck loads of lumber to the dump and made plans to preserve the parts that had not been crushed. “The swings can stay, we can move the slide over here, and redeck that section,” Sean said gesturing toward what remained.

This is what I am learning about childhood, time, and life—it breaks in unexpected ways, meets you in the outgrowing, and reveals new ways in which you can adapt and continue to love.

Saying It Out Loud

Posted on April 7, 2018

My writing has always moved in cycles, propelled by the girls’ milestones, time’s passage, working through then and now, or by the seasons in marriage. Lately, it’s been a slow cycle, in part because the girls are getting older and where before it felt like one shared story, now it is many interlaced. Even my own story, whether about aging or marriage feels like it could intrude on the girls’ life. I come to the keyboard with a new mix of awareness, there is such power in what we share and what we reveal. I genuinely believe we each get to choose our path.

I’ve been blogging for close to fifteen years, many of those years in near total anonymity. I’ve watched people I know publish books and earn powerful brand partnerships. I celebrate each one because it’s hard work. I watched them build personal brands before it was a thing, whether the insults hurled at “mommy bloggers,” and move through the public process of honing a craft. And now here we are, with words like influencer and brand ambassador. The thing I love is the people, the distinct way each writer view the world, how they serve up something in a way that no one else can; it’s powerful and breathtaking.

Jennifer Kindhouse has beautifully moved from a writing name she used for years to her own name and has declared how she’ll do it for herself, not because she begrudges anyone their style, rather it’s time for her to be comfortable with her own. I love that, just as I admire Jill Krauss for ditching one way of life for another and doing the work to build a following without tricks and shortcuts.

 

Last year at Mom2 I connected with Christine Koh, Melissa Ford, and Morra Aarons Mele. It was a turning point for me as I decided that I wanted to write about things I loved. Yes, I would write about parenting and marriage, but I also wanted to write about the things, places, and people who have helped me become who I am today. When the opportunity to write about what Planned Parenthood has meant to me came along, I lunged for it.

 

I had in the back of my head the understanding that the fight over women’s health care can be a scary place. Certainly, in the last several years the approach to online discourse about politics has become borderline violent; it’s easy to stay out of it. I worried a bit about how the way I would write about it would be different than how others might. I don’t always feel equipped to debate about policy. I decided to stack those concerns off to the side and trust that I had something of value to add to the conversation.

Just write what you know, Manda. Write it your way and you’ll be ok.

A few days ago I found out that the post I wrote has been nominated for an Iris Award. It’s hard to explain how much this means to me. I wrote the post for a few reasons—I wanted to give back to Planned Parenthood for the years of care they gave me, I wanted to make the women who gave me the opportunity to write the post glad that they chose me, and lastly I wanted my daughters to know that it’s ok to speak up and to use your voice.

You can read the post here.

Have you made a change in how you write or how you engage? Are you making a scary change? Point me in your direction because what you are doing matters.

Sooner

Posted on March 31, 2018

I’ve been thinking a lot about the in-betweens, whether it’s the grey between black and white, the yes behind no and never, and saying, “This is good” when the place I wanted to get to still seems miles away. As is almost always the case, I can attribute the considering to the girls and kids in general, their ability to live in a realm where it’s ok to want things, ok to imagine that anything can happen, and, most bitingly, their ability to see what we cannot.

I want to take less time to relent; so much of what I resist is good for me and those around me. A couple of weeks ago I posted something on Instagram. There was something about the morning light and an unexpected wave of tenderness toward myself that prompted it.

 

Sitting in the beams of sunlight rolling through the first floor of our house. The girls slept at my parents and the quiet is like a sweet and sour candy, sugary indulgence with tartness that sneaks up and tightens my jaw. I choose to float inside the different emotions, absentmindedly flipping through images on a brand’s IG account. “If only I had the nerve to dress like that.” The thought blasted and I felt the let down of not going for it on the global level—of reserving daring, boldness, sexiness, and selfishness for others. “It’s not me,” is something I think a lot of us say, but why? Last year at about this time I found out I was nominated for a @mom2summit #IrisAward . The category was for Best Writing and I allowed myself exactly one hour of feet not touching the ground, breathless rapture before telling myself that I would never win. I literally didn’t allow myself to even imagine winning after that one exquisite hour of maybe. What would happen if we allowed ourselves (commanded ourselves) to let the moments of “Oh, how I wish I had the nerve,” to become declarations of “Here I go.” Whether it’s wearing a fedora or scheduling a boudoir shoot, running for office or giving your notice. How would the world open up if we stopped saying, “I couldn’t possibly” and “It will never happen.” When I heard my name called and realized it really was me they were inviting to the stage to claim the award I trembled, like literally quaked. The ground beneath me felt foreign and I half expected someone to call out that it wasn’t mine. Our willingness to deny our own light is life-altering. I am still scared and riddled with doubt, but damnit, I want to hold hands with you and race forward breaking through all we think we can’t like some magnificent winning of a game of Red Rover, Red Rover. Will you come with me? Whatever that means for you…you can. #selfconfidencenow

 

The comments on that post made me realize that there are so many of us bobbing along in the water, hoping that the tide will somehow carry us into shore where we can finally begin. We don’t realize that we are the sea—the stillness and the strength, the waves and the spray, but we are also the undertow.

We can make everything happen sooner. Today can be the day that we begin to quiet the words of doubt or the day that we conquer a fear. If doing it for ourselves is too much, we can begin with a friend or someone we love. The only catch is we then have to look ourselves in the mirror and answer honestly why we wouldn’t be every bit of deserving of time, patience, grace, or love as anyone else.

 

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