Not a Letter to My Daughter on International Women’s Day

womens-dayIt’s International Women’s Day, and there are so many excellent letters from fathers and mothers to their daughters currently trending on the interwebs. Reading them, I realize how much of what I might say to our daughter reflects ME: my struggles, the lessons I’ve learned, the dreams I still have for myself.

Recently we visited with a young mom who is in the process of coming out, and struggling with her conservative faith background. It’s been twenty years (wow!) since I came out, and what I remember most is the fear. I was afraid I wouldn’t survive.

Like so many women of my generation, I excel at people-pleasing and self-negation and here-let-me-squish-myself-into-this-mold-to-make-you-love-me. I knew my desire for women was old, beginning at least as early as third grade. But I figured that everyone had those feelings, and we just ignored them, to do what the church told us to do. Also: I was terrified of losing God.

This blog has been a place where I say things I am not supposed to, a place where I challenge my self-censor. So I will tell you something that I don’t usually tell people, because it is painful and I am afraid you will judge me.

When I made the decision to come out, it wasn’t because I believed in a woman’s right to define her own sexuality. (I would, later, but I hadn’t yet found Marilyn Frye or Audre Lorde.) I was 19 years old.

When I came out, it was to save my life.

In December 1993, I was violently sexually assaulted by a man on the very long train ride from Los Angeles to Salem, Oregon. I didn’t fight back. I was tired. Also: I had lots of practice letting things happen to my body that I didn’t choose. I’d been trained in that, as surely as I’d been trained that girls like boys and men are stronger than women.

I was 19 years old, and I failed to protect myself. I was tired, so very tired, of letting things happen, of the shame and ick and scalding hot showers afterwards.

I knew that I was the only one who could protect myself. I had to claim my body as mine, as beloved and worth the work to defend and cherish.

Here is where I worry you will misunderstand: that you will think that I came out to avoid sexual violence. But I know (perhaps more than the average woman) that being with women doesn’t ensure safety. It wasn’t the gender of the perpetrator, it was me: something in me that I hadn’t been able to hold on to.

So I stepped out to figure out what it might mean to say NO. No, not just to violence, but no to all of it: to everyone’s expectations of who I should be and whom I should desire.

And as I did that, as I stood up for myself, it slowly stopped mattering what others expected or said about God’s ability to love me. Once I stood up for myself, I got to choose. What did I want? That I knew…had always known.

This isn’t a story I am ready to share with my daughter. Perhaps not for a long while, if ever. I want time – years and years – to teach her the good stuff before she learns about the violence, about the reasons we still need a Women’s Day, and feminism, and gender equality.

I want my daughter to learn that her body is hers and no one else’s…that her needs, feelings and desires are important and require no apology or sanction. I want her to be affirmed of what she already knows: that she is beautiful beyond measure and worthy — to her soul’s core — of love and respect.

Writing this now, I realize that the stories I want to share with my daughter are the ones that I rarely celebrate: the day I signed the lease for my teeny first apartment, the outfit I chose for my first date with the woman who would become my wife, the summer I flew to St. Petersburg, Russia alone and backpacked through Eastern Europe solo for eight weeks. My first time preaching, the way my hands shook, and the way I knew — wholly and without question — that God, Holy Mystery, loves not only me but everybody (and my work might just be helping people to see that too).

On this Women’s Day, my wish is that our old stories of what we survived may fall away and the stories of how we thrive may rise up to shine — vibrant, courageous, and true.

Joy: The Mess & The Music

Any excuse to look at something pretty. http://wallpaperswide.com/pebbles_4-wallpapers.html

Any excuse to look at something pretty. http://wallpaperswide.com/pebbles_4-wallpapers.html

Life has been emotionally overwhelming lately, so this post is a series of random free associations with (mostly) a theme. Maybe it will work best if you think of them like little stones you can tuck in your pocket, skip across the water, or nudge with your toe. (Ok, that was kind of rose-colored and presumptive, huh? Maybe these musings are more like rocks in your shoes. Yesterday while I waited for the elevator at the doctor, I realized my left foot hurt and dumped out my shoe to find…dry cat food…which, as it turns out, feels like rocks when it’s been placed, in large amounts, in your shoes by a toddler. But I digress.)

Revisiting the Mess(ability)

Last month, I said I wasn’t sure I could be a good parent in a messy house.

Thank goodness for a person’s right to change her mind.

My toddler daughter and I spent the better part of an hour simultaneously building a fort in the living room and dismantling it in a hilarious game of flop-and-dive. We were having so much fun, we started laughing…full-body uproarious laughter. I laughed so hard I literally did cry, and while I was sobbing I looked at the amazing chaos of our small living room and thought:

Maybe I CAN be a good parent in a messy house (some of the time).

Because if mess equals freedom to play, and freedom equals a space to be joyfully yourself — your whole, messy, flop-and-dive self — then the mess is not just okay, but necessary. Maybe the space to play wholeheartedly, without worrying about making a mess, is something good I can give my daughter.

Whoa.

Found at LunaGuitars

Found at LunaGuitars

Music Education & Doing it Badly

Tonight I went to Parent Education Night at Music Together, a musical immersion class that my daughter and I are enjoying this semester.

Here are a few musical facts:

FACT #1. I LOVE music. Not just a little. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I am always singing or humming or making up new kid-friendly words to some inappropriate tune (SuperFuss to the tune of SuperFreak, for example).

I discovered the magic of transition songs, so now I have scientific proof (or a Waldorf blessing, which might be stronger) that my incessant warbling is helpful. My 18-month-old and I sing our way to and from naptime, dressing, changing diapers, making breakfast, feeding the cats, leaving the house.

And.

FACT #2. I struggle to sing in tune. I struggle to clap in rhythm. Of my three sisters, I am the only one who has not sung in public, led worship, or had a solo. I have been told (more than once) that I am off key.

(Secretly, I have longed to sing in a choir — any choir — since I belted out “Turn on Your Heartlight” during third grade music assembly at Elmhurst Elementary School. Don’t tell anyone.)

So at the end of Parent Education Night, I turned to the very nice teacher next to me (not my regular teacher, no accountability – ha!) and asked if it really was true that I won’t ruin my daughter’s musical ability by constantly singing to her off key.

Vanessa (God bless you, Vanessa) answered me in the most wonderful way.

She said: well, if you wanted to teach your kid baseball, would you sit them down in front of a pro game? Or would you go out in the backyard and pitch the ball?

Ohhhh, right, that not-doing-it-perfectly-thing. I forgot.

In fact, Vanessa says that the MOST important thing is what I model for my daughter about music. Do I show her that making music is scary or fun? Intimidating or joyful? Open to everyone or only for the perfectly performing few?

Got it. HOORAY!

I sang all the way home, warbling joyfully.

Music as Spiritual Nourishment

Warbling in the car, I was reminded of my childhood friend and momrade, Shannon Friedman, who in this very wise comment, shared that one of her irreplaceable gifts to her son is music. She spends hours finding songs that will nurture her son’s spirit, his body-heart-mind-soul.

I realized that I love music, in large part, because it is my spiritual root. Music is my way in to knowing myself as beloved, as created-by-Love, as made-of-stardust. Even before I could pronounce the words, humming along as my mother sang in church and lit the candles on the Advent wreath was my introduction to the Holy, to Awe and Mystery.

I’m not as intentional as my friend Shannon in giving this gift to my daughter, but I could be. Music of all kinds can nourish our spirit, our soul. I was reminded of this by our dear friends, my daughter’s godparents, who gave us a bunch of CDs recently. I play them every day on the stereo in the kitchen.

Rocks on Manzanita beach

Rocks on Manzanita beach

Maybe Joy Is Where It’s At

I wonder if the theme in all of this musing about mess and music is Joy.

Joy is when the mess makes sense.

Joy is when the music doesn’t need to be on key.

Joy is the heart of the lesson, the best I can bring to this emotionally overwhelming toddler time of life.

HOORAY AGAIN! What a relief. Because while I struggle painfully with happy (such hard work, navigating disappointments and expectations), I’ve got joy.

In fact, I’m just now remembering that I wrote a song about joy. During my first year of graduate school in January 2009, I walked along the coast under a winter sun. I watched the river tumbling rocks on their way to the sea. Freezing cold and exhilarated, I sang:

Sing for joy, O my soul
Leap for joy, O my soul
Sing for joy, Leap for joy
Leap for joy, O my soul

The river’s wide, O my soul
The river’s wild, O my soul
Wild and wide, the river flows
The river flows, O my soul

God is wide, O my soul
God is wild, O my soul
Wild and wide, God is light
God is light, O my soul

The river’s joy, O my soul
God is joy, O my soul
You are joy, You are joy
You are joy, O my soul

###

So, how’s the music (and the mess) at your house?

 

P.S. After writing this, I noticed that warbling home in the car after Parent Ed Night was a “Perfect Moment Monday” (yes, today is technically Tuesday, but details, details…whatever). Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Everyone is welcome to join. Peruse more perfect moments on Lori’s blog or add your own.

 

Motherhood & the Meaning of Life

This weekend I sat in a circle of women. Wise women who gathered to support my amazing friend, a spiritual guide and companion, who is seeking to expand her practice. The circle included spiritual leaders and seekers, grandmothers and mothers and aunts.

When it was my turn to speak, I found myself saying that I’d come because I believe in the power of women. I believe in the power of women in circles, in groups, in pairs, alone. I believe in women’s wisdom and women’s spiritual work. And, for my own part, I am so frustrated with my own inability to be useful: to find a place where my talents, my passion, my willingness to show-up-and-tell-truth can make a difference.

While my host nodded with me, other women in the circle took the time to say something else.

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

One, an active clergywoman, said: nothing is more important than the time you spend, right now, with your child. No work you might do is more important. You should focus on being a mom.

Another woman said: I heard you say you were frustrated and you know that being a mom is the most important job you’ll ever have.

I was so angry.

Angry and betrayed and incredulous.

SERIOUSLY?

Motherhood is not a career. It is not a job. Yes, it is work. Hard work. Important work. And I am honored and delighted and beyond grateful that I get to be a mom. But. Motherhood is NOT a career. Not for me.

If you met a stranger who had kids – a man – at a party, and he shared with you about being between careers and being frustrated with finding work, would you say: “well, you know, fatherhood is the most important CAREER you’ll ever have.”

Didn’t we have that women’s rights movement – that FEMINISM thing – like forty years ago? Haven’t we covered this gender shtick already?

And what about my daughter? Is it healthy for her to be my meaning, my purpose, my essential contribution to the long arc of human existence on this planet?

No, no, no. I don’t believe it is healthy for a parent to use children as their raison d’être.

I know that what my friend told me later (as I fumed) is true: the reaction of these women was about them, and not about me. Born in a different generation, motherhood as a career may work for them, or perhaps seems like the only choice. But I am still angry. I know what it feels like, as a daughter, to be a mother’s reason-for-being, and I resent it. I never liked being my mother’s everything, and I don’t want to lay that burden on my daughter.

And, call me selfish, but I WANT TO BE USEFUL TO THE WORLD. I have talents and gifts and passion and ambition and I yearn to make a difference. Not just in one life – my daughter’s – but to my community, to the world.

Someday, sooner than seems reasonable, the time of diaper changes and school drop-offs will have passed, and my daughter will be an adult, on her own. What will my adult daughter have learned from me, her Mutti, about what it means to be a woman, to be human?

I want my daughter to see her mother helping others, speaking out, challenging institutions of oppression, working for justice, nurturing community for future generations.

I want to be fully myself.

I want my daughter to be fully herself.

I want us to be what I know we already are: powerful, powerful women.

***

Is parenthood a career for you? Why or why not? What is your reason for being?