Inspired by Hans
I was seventeen and in the midst of my grade twelve year when the knowledge that I was some kind of feminist came to me with a hazy certainty.
My parents had recently chosen to migrate west; from Ontario to BC. And since I make friends like I do most big things-very slowly and gradually- it was a lonely time.
The loneliness may have been tolerable, if only the small Chilliwack library had boasted a few more classics and a lot fewer romance and mystery novels… but sadly the selection therein was about as thrilling to me as my friend situation.
And so it was on that fateful day that I looked up from my mediocre book to see a boy whom I knew better than most of the others call his girlfriend a “B-I-T-C-H.” He said it in a casual way… in the way you say a word like that just for the comedy or irony of the thing. But for an instant, I saw in the girl’s eyes that the word had stung.
I hated to see her hurt and his cocky ambivalence. Surely he would know better in the future if only someone would take the time to explain things to him.
“Adam,” I said instructively: “That’s a really offensive word. I don’t think you should be using it to describe your girlfriend.”
Adam looked down at the girl whom his arm was slung around, saw he wasn’t going to get any support from her in the matter, and turned back to me instead.
He leaned back, taking his time with the words I would never forget:
“You know, Jen…. When I first saw you I thought: ‘she’s pretty hot’… and then (here, he paused for dramatic effect) …you opened your mouth.”
He smiled, a satisfied smile, confident he had shut me up forever.
I stared back at him stupidly, both frozen and inflamed. I never, never, ever wanted to be like that girl beside Adam; lifelessly sitting next to a boy who threw around words like “hot,” because he was clever enough to know that most, if not all, high school girls have an intense desire to be that word.
And so, a feminist was born, albeit a conflicted one. Being a high school girl myself meant I was not immune to Adam’s words. It would be easy enough to come to terms with the fact that Adam didn’t love me, but I did want to be loved by someone. And Adam had given the distinct impression through his smile that he was confident no one ever would.
Fast forward eleven years, and I’m still a pretty conflicted feminist. However, there is something that seventeen-year-old me knew on that day but couldn’t explain that pretty much sums up my belief in feminism, girl-power, and maybe all of humanity, and it’s this:
I have value as a person and as a woman and that value is not dependent upon the approval of any other man or woman. And so you see, that Adam’s prophetic smile was mistaken. Someone out there would love me forever and always, through thick and through thin, in sickness and health… and that somebody was ME!
Whether or not my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, husband, children, or neighbours love me is up to their own free choosing, and completely independent from the knowledge of my own self-worth.
And speaking of feminism, my husband, Hans, who is so very wise, recently pointed out to me that my purse has been holding me back in life. You see, having three children means you need to carry around an annoying number of things, and possibly because of my version of stubborn feminist pride, I have refused to entertain the concept of a diaper bag. Something in me has always been convinced that diaper bags are where every chance of being alluring and interesting goes to die.
So there I was one day, carrying around an enormously clunky purse full of jumbled up bottles and diapers, oh so desperately searching for my keys, when Hans looked down disapprovingly at the mess that was my life, and said: Why don’t you just get a backpack?
Why… don’t I… just… GET A BACKPACK?
The intelligence of a man completely unencumbered by the impracticality of feminine norms.
Yes. I instantly started planning. It would be a lovely thing, this backpack. – Canvas, so that it would be durable and ready for adventures, with lots of pockets providing easy access to my wallet, keys, etc. Not too bulky, but with enough room for all my things.
I could just picture myself moving freely about- both hands and arms completely free to haul children, bag groceries, and run through a field of daisies.
Luckily, after much searching, amazon delivered just the backpack I needed. If you want to head over there, they have a great selection… and then you’ll be able to join me in the backpack revolution!
I am in love this backpack. It has completely changed my life. It has the function I’ve been craving (it even has a little releasable clip for my keys!) and I don’t feel the least bit dowdy while using it. It’s a win for me, and maybe even a win for feminism at large.
Sometimes, you have to start with the little things in life. Today a backpack, tomorrow, boys and girls who are raised knowing that the worth of human beings isn’t determined by how “hot” they are.
Join the Conversation: Comment, Like, or Share!
Join the Conversation: Comment, Like, or Share!
Inspired by Breanna
“I’ve been clean for 9 months now,” she told me. I could hear the pride in her voice as she talked about all the changes she’d made- how different she felt. This girl who had felt so completely lost over a year ago was finally getting her bearings.
Over a year ago we had cried together as she told me about how empty she felt inside- that there was nothing she liked about herself anymore. That to her, high school was a breeding ground for self-hatred. A place where people bullied her. A place where she felt like she was nothing.
I found myself asking how a person gets to this place of feeling like nothing. Looking at Breanna, there seemed to be no logical explanation. She was there in front of me looking bright and full of kindness. She had her whole life ahead of her and it was beautiful. When I voiced my musings she said simply: “A person can go from fine to feeling like nothing.”
WHAT? Why? I thought of my own little boy and was filled with dread at the thought of his perception of himself changing so rapidly. What is happening to our beautiful girls and boys… our toddlers who are so full of love for themselves? These wonderful little people who will so readily tell you that they are smart and beautiful— and these are the same people who feel like “nothing” a few short years later?
Breanna’s first introduction to cutting had been through seeing marks and scars on other kids. And her reaction upon seeing this behavior in her peers was one of surprise and shock at first: “[I wanted] to talk to them; Ask them if they’re okay, but at the same time you’re lost for words and you don’t know what to say or do.”
When I asked Breanna what had changed to make her turn to cutting, I was expecting to hear about a friend or a boyfriend who convinced her to start doing it, but was surprised to find that, in Breanna’s experience, cutting is something that most young people turn to on their own… and that it’s something that most of them do in private.
Enter high school and, with it, a world where 14 year old children are expected to be able to handle adult-like stress and life experiences like adults.
“You don’t want to stress other people out about anything. If I was struggling in school, I wouldn’t want to tell anyone because I felt like I should be able to handle it myself.”
And so instead of talking to other people about her fears and anxieties, Breanna compared herself to them instead. And when she started comparing herself to other people, somehow a failed math test turned into not only feeling stupid, but feeling ugly and unlikable as well. “One thing wrong becomes everything wrong. It’s not true, but it feels that way,” Breanna says.
“It’s kind of like, when you have overbearing pain inside, you’re bringing some of that outside, so that you can kind of control it,” Breanna explains. “Cutting can help you feel something, and show you that you’re capable of feeling pain and emotion when you’re feeling numb and empty,” she continues, explaining her experiences with cutting as an important ritual “It’s almost like you let it all go because you’re focusing on cutting. It’s relaxing— Me time.” She admits, that when she first became engaged in cutting, she didn’t even think of it as being a bad thing.
So how did Breanna start to turn things around, you may ask?
The answer is more obvious than you would think. As I began asking questions about her journey to feeling whole again, I expected to hear about the amazing FACES program where I met her as her teacher and the feeling she had when, together with other students, she had climbed a mountain for the first time and then felt like she could conquer more— BE more. I expected to hear about the encouraging text messages that we had exchanged and the school counselor that she had promised me she would start seeing. And I did hear about all of those things and more… but when I asked Breanna to point to the one thing that had really made her want to stop cutting, I was floored by her answer.
“I talked to my Parents,” she said.
It was an obvious answer, one that a toddler would have come up with. But Breanna wasn’t a toddler anymore and somehow growing up had made her feel like she had to carry the weight of her world on her own.
Prior to talking to her parents about her cutting habbit, Breanna had assumed that doing so would harm her relationship with them. She also worried that her parents “would be really upset; really disappointed in [her]. [She] didn’t want to put that on them… or make them feel like it was their fault.” In some ways, Breanna’s fears were realized when she finally told her parents about the feelings that were leading to cutting. It hurt her parents to know she was hurting herself. But at the same time, she realized something important—something that was a game changer.
As a parent, hurting IS YOUR JOB. Because you can’t feel the kind of love that most parents feel for their children without feeling pain yourself when they so much as scrap their precious knees.
And so in that moment when she confided in them, Breanna’s parents loved her in the same way that they had loved her when they had first gazed at her in a tiny pink hat. They were willing to hurt with her because they knew that fourteen is too young to have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders; any age is too young. But maybe most of us finally figure that out by the time our twenties hit?
These days we hear a lot about seeking professional help. And there is definitely an important place in this world for teachers and counselors, motivational speakers, yoga instructors…. (etc. etc.) But what we can’t forget, is that parenthood is the profession of professions. As parents, we are professional when it comes to loving and caring for our children. They know it and we know it and there is no substitute for that love in all the professions of the world combined. It’s both inspiring and frightening to say, but there it is.
Self-injuring aside, I think that if teens and parents alike could remember this important lesson that Breanna was kind enough to teach me, our schools and our homes would be improved beyond recognition.
Join the Conversation: Comment, Like, or Share!
My son is watching Caillou right now and I can’t help but notice that Caillou’s wonderful parents never seem to miss a beat. No matter how difficult the situation, they navigate it without getting the least bit ruffled. They never yell. And they never ever say anything to their children that could lead them to feel shame for their mistakes. They certainly never get cross with each other. I’ve noticed that Caillou’s mother never uses that horrible mom voice that mom’s use when they’re every kind of tired and annoyed at once. The kind of voice that I found myself using yesterday while desperately trying to go to the bathroom:
I had been up most of the night with a teething one-year-old. I looked awful; tried to get ready, but nothing fits me correctly anymore. Had settled on a poor choice, but didn’t have time to fix my mistake. The house was getting more out-of-sorts by the second, and the kids were crank city. This scene went on for two and a half hours, with no real progress in any direction… but it wasn’t until I had to go “number 2” and didn’t have the courage to shut the door behind me that the horrible mom voice crept in. My 3-year-old decided to grab the only roll of toilet paper and, giggling happily, rolled it out across the kitchen while my daughter stood clawing at my knees red-faced and screaming. I felt pure misery in my soul. All I wanted was to go to the bathroom in peace. And that’s when I got yelly and whiny, and screamy all at once. I can’t remember the words I used on my tormenters but I’m positive Caillou’s mother wouldn’t have approved.
I wish that morning could be erased forever. Or better yet, that it had never happened. But what if it had never happened? If had never happened, I wouldn’t have had the chance to cuddle my little girl close, after drying her tears and whipping her snotty nose, and know for sure that we loved each other even when we were both at our very worst. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell my son that I made a mistake. That I let myself lose control and that I was very sorry. I wouldn’t have gotten to feel my heart swell, as he solemnly followed my lead and apologized for his misdemeanor with the toilet paper.
The hard thing about that story is that it’s not just a once-a-week kind of thing at our house. In fact, there’s usually a portion of each day that closely resembles the bathroom incident mentioned above. I’m not always the one to lose it, but I make the list a lot more often than I would like… and it hurts to sit here and admit that because I have such a different vision for myself as a wife and mother. A more caillou-ish vision.
This perfect Caillou-kind-of- mother isn’t new. The people of the Victorian era even had a term for what they deemed to be the perfect wife and mother. They called her “the Angel in the House.” This “Angel” was devoted and submissive to her husband. She was passive and powerless, meek, charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and above all–pure.
Although the standards for “Angel in the House,” notably the passivity and powerlessness, are fairly undesirable, I still find the title itself alluring. When it really comes down to it, I do want to be an angel! Don’t we all? Mothers or not, don’t we all just want to be at least pretty close to perfect at what we do?
My children are asleep now and the house is clean and quiet. And in this quiet place, it’s easy to start to dream about a shiny clean tomorrow… but even though that kind of thinking can be nice, I think it might actually be more productive to plan for my failures of tomorrow. Because no matter how hard I might try, I won’t be able to demonstrate to my children how to live a life that is completely without resentment, impatience, bitterness, etc., but I can show them how I attempt to amend those attitudes when they crop up. And isn’t that one of the best things that I could teach them? How to get up when they fall? How to be okay with admitting their failures so that they can look for the best ways to recover from them? How to keep trying?
So I’m going to try and let go of the perfect mother… the mother of my dreams. I don’t want to get rid of her entirely, because I think she provides moments of genuine inspiration in my life. So maybe she’ll get tucked away somewhere special, where I can take her out and admire her on occasion…. But for the most part, I want to focus on being great at being a human mother… a mistake-making mother who tries really hard.
Because I think I can do that.
It might be the hardest thing of all because really being this kind of mother requires me to be honest with myself and where I’m at… but I think I’m up for the challenge!
Dear Reader: Tell me about you! Do you find yourself becoming discouraged by the difference between who you are right now and your vision of perfection? If so, what do you do about it?
Join the Conversation: Comment, Like, or Share!
I had the privilege a few months ago of being there when one of the best women I know gave birth to her first child. I felt honoured to be present with her and her husband at such a terrifying, exciting, spiritual, and life altering moment in their lives.
The best laid plans…
Sometimes things don’t go the way you’d like them to when it comes to giving birth. I get that. And my friend got it too. But there’s still one thing that haunts me when it comes to remembering that experience. It wasn’t the puking, or the way her hands became stiff and contorted from the pain and fear all mixed together, or even the emergency c-section. It was the moment when the nurse looked my friend in the eye and said all too casually: “I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, but you’re actually not in labour.” That was the moment when I felt her spirit crumple. The moment when I felt something important and powerful being taken away.
The massive slap in the face
There are two major ways in which we as the general population understand the term labour. One as it relates to hard work, toil, exertion, or effort and another as it relates to the process of childbirth. I just looked it up to make sure, and the most common words associated with the verb labour are childbirth, birth, and delivery. Sounds fairly all-inclusive, right? Well apparently, not. I just came home from my neighbour’s house, who has undergone c-sections for each of her three children, and it turns out, that she had been told THE SAME THING her first time round; “You’re actually not in labour.” It seems to me that the medical definition of first stage labour as involving regular uterine contractions is being thrown far too lightly in the faces of women who are working with every mental and physical power they possess to ensure the safe and optimal arrival of their baby into this world. These women need all the love and the positive affirmation they can get. They don’t need to hear about technicalities that do nothing other than make their pain feel less real and their womanhood less validated. Of course they want the guidance of seasoned health professionals. That’s why they came to a hospital – but not like that. When I had a miscarriage, I wasn’t ever told that I hadn’t actually lost a baby, I’d lost a fetus. That would have been awful. It would have accomplished nothing other than to diminish my feelings of loss. So why do some health care professionals feel okay saying something similarly devastating to labouring mothers?
What to do
I can personally attest to the fact that the part of giving birth before you’re “in labour” enough to be admitted into the hospital can be the hardest part. But it’s not about that is it? It’s about celebrating the process of and the woman giving birth at every opportunity. It’s about realizing that our words have power. Not just in this, but in every instance. It’s a scary thing to see people who put a lot of intention and effort into hurting other people. But it’s almost just as scary to think that there are people who cause immense hurt and suffering almost without thinking or trying. So if you see someone who appears to be in a vulnerable situation, get on their team! And don’t be shy about it… other people might just get inspired (by you)!
Join the Conversation: Comment, Like, or Share!