For some unknown technical reason, I’ve been unable to ‘Publish’ any of my posts for many months and have been sitting on drafts. In the end, I have had to reset and lose all of my drafts in order to unlock my blog. Yay, technology! Alas, I am still here. I will need to let go of what WOULD have been published and start anew!
I really have no reason for not thinking to copy and paste my drafts before losing them. Pregnancy brain? Oops.
And when I was born, they looked at me and said,
“What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.”
When you were born, they looked at you and said,
“What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.”
Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Girls Good Good Girl.
I didn’t wanna be a good girl but my brother died before I was born and I needed to be everything my parents lost.
I couldn’t be too risky, because I needed to stay alive. I couldn’t make bad choices, because I needed to make my parents happy, not even sadder.
I needed to live past 10.
I knew my role and played my part.
The burden of being good is that the longer you’re ‘good’, the more your bad behavior is intolerable.
You’re held to a different standard.
Another problem with being ‘good’ is that you’re probably too nice and you WILL get walked all over.
If you’re always good, you lose your ability to express yourself freely.
You just smile.
What is ‘good’, anyways? Everyone’s idea will be different.
And meeting everyone’s expectations will be exhausting!
We teach our children to be ‘good’ without even realizing the intangible pressure it’s putting on them, to strive for an unreachable touchstone. It just never ends.
I tell my son, ‘Alistair, you’re doing a good job coloring,’ but what I really mean is, ‘Alistair, you’re sitting nicely and focusing on your coloring page,’ and that’s what I try to remember to say. Because ‘good’ isn’t something you can quantify.
‘You’re such a good boy,’ is something I tell my dog and my son asks ‘Am I good boy, too?’
I don’t want him to grow up thinking he needs to be or should be a good boy.
My parents didn’t tell me I had to be good….it was something I was genetically disposed to do, to please them and others. And the more I got told I was ‘good’, the more I tried to do it. Positive reinforcement works.
But I feel like I cannot get that label off my forehead. I’ve tried to rebel, I really have, and I’m not good at it. I try to be mean and I just languish over it for days. I try to care less about things, but cares just creep back up on me. I’ve tried scrub that label off for much of my adult life, but it’s sticking.
And this is my reminder to myself to keep any and all labels off of my son during these formative years.
While I wandered through the entirety Target this afternoon, as I often do on a household errand (We need laundry soap? I’m going to Target and will be back in 2 hours), I quickly realized with the Junior’s clothing section I could completely replicate my 1997 wardrobe. They say fashion comes in cycles, and boy, they weren’t kidding.
Autumn is the best clothing season thanks to boots, scarves, and jackets. But today, I spurned my usual fall scarf hunt as I was just TOO darn excited to try to on three outfits very close to ones I wore in middle school.
When I tried these now-fashionable-again items on, it immediately became apparent I was twice the age and twice the size as I when I wore these fashions in the 90’s. Bummer.
Please no fat-shaming.
Hoodies and flannel=joy
Crop tops-not for F cups
With a choker necklace and some chunky boots, I’d be right at home again (but with stretch marks from childbearing).
I wore a drapey cotton t-shirt dress and jean jacket ensemble, much akin to Photo One, at my first.ever.rock concert: Bush, The Goo Goo Dolls and No Doubt.
(Dang, 1997 was a good year for music. Rock hadn’t quite died yet )
(And demin was still cute, not yet ruined by Justin and Britney )
For the second photo, I wore a black hoodie under a flannel shirt over light-washed jeans with holes in the knees. This was, honestly, how I dressed in the entirety of 1996….and 1997…and 1998, give or take a few rock band t-shirts or ‘baby doll tees.’ Add in some Vans and Photo Two is basically a uniform from my middle school days.
(1997 was a good year for school kids. We didn’t spend all of our days on our phones; we passed hand written notes and drew on each other’s shoes. )
In the third photo, I adorned myself with what I considered a highly risky piece for person over 30: a cropped, striped sweater with high-waisted jeans. Striped, tight sweaters were the bread and butter of every adolescent girl (well, those with my taste in clothing) from 1995-1999 or even later. It was not until the year 2000 when waists on jeans dropped to Christina and Britney-esque hip huggers and tight sweaters gave way for glittery tops.
Speaking of which, 1997 was a good year for glitter. Sparkle may not have yet adorned our shirts or skirts, but it certainly adorned our eyes, lips, cheeks, under eyes and yes, collar bones.
(I carried glitter gel in my purse. If it wasn’t glittery, I didn’t want it on my face)
Today’s trip through Target’s make-up aisles showed me that glitter on faces is back in fashion, although this time it’s more metallic and matte and less glitter and gloss.
Making America 1997 Again is well under way in our clothing and make-up aisles, and plenty of my fave musicians from the year are still making great music…
So what are some other ways we could Make America 1997 Again? I’ll have a think on it.
My five year-old recently asked me how I got my large breasts. ‘Did you swallow two balloons?’ he asked.
Balloons. Heads. Balls. Cantaloupe.
My breasts have been compared to many things over the years, but how did I get them in the first place? I guess we’d have to ask a geneticist.
This is the story of my boobs, and how I am trying to learn to love them.
First things first: they are natural, don’t fluctuate much with weight, and I’ve had them since I was a pre-teen.
I remember the fast way I climbed puberty’s bra-size ladder: A, B, C, D, DD, DDD…..by the time I was 19 and working in a lingerie shop I learned I was a cup size E. Who knew?!
This was, perhaps, the only period in my life I actually loved my boobs. Maybe it was just working around bras all day and the incredible discount I got for myself. Maybe it was due to the fact that being out of high school I no longer felt like some sort of freak of nature who needed to hunch over in order to avoid stares.
I was only a teenager when I learned to feel shame for my breasts. This was societal, not a particular incident. I was taught at church that if boys saw my cleavage I was somehow responsible for their naughty thoughts. I was taught ‘modest is hottest’, but how can you hide size D breasts?
I tried. Oh, goodness, how I tried. I invested in tight sports bras and wore them over my regular bras, because the two combined created a squashing effect. I taped them down. I literally taped them down hoping to get less stares during the school day. If I wore turtle necks I had a huge ‘boob shelf’ that people would stare at, and if I wore more suitable low-cut tops, I could not conceal the ‘shameful’ cleavage.
I noticed over time how moving around the classroom or working in groups meant I would have to bend down, and bending down meant
So I tried to never bend over, constantly aware of the awkwardness of my body.
In gym class, I learned that running not only hurt like hell for someone of my body shape, but it again attracted the kind of attention I was told was my fault. So I didn’t run. I didn’t jump. I tried to avoid changing into my gym outfit (although to be fair the girls in the locker room were never mean or stared – thanks, friends).
I got a ‘D’ in gym to match to my ‘D’s.
If you knew me in high school, you are probably thinking ‘But…………’ and yes, there is a ‘but’ and something which took me decades to figure out:
Because of the tremendous attention paid to my enormous breasts, I was the first to take my top off during stupid teenage dares and car games. Red Light Green Light, anyone? If you’ve been on a limo ride with me, you’ve probably seen me topless. I did ‘flashing’ games, etc.
My adult brain realizes this was me trying to take back some control over my body.
Playing these games which involved me asking for attention felt better than the constant attention I received without asking for it.
When I had my son 5 years ago, I was determined to nurse. There was not a nursing bra in the entire state of North Dakota which fit me, but luckily some online shopping did the trick. (But have you ever tried bra shopping online? What a nightmare.)
In any case, I nursed my son for 11 months and at first would hide in bathroom stalls and sit on toilets, because nursing covers didn’t work with my by-then ‘G’ cups. I had to have at least one breast out in the open to properly feed my son. People stared and stared and stared if I did this in cafes or on playgrounds. I would basically only go places like the mall which had nursing rooms because I hated the disgusted looks I would get.
One time on a plane I had a literal stare down with a man in a suit two rows up and across from me. I always nursed on take-off and landing and even with a blanket covering the terrible act of feeding my son(sarcasm) there was always a bit of boob showing. It’s how my body is shaped. This man stared at me with vitriol and I narrowed my eyes and stared right back as my son suckled. I would not be shamed anymore, I decided. No more bathroom stalls. And I urge and encourage the normalization of the normal act of breast feeding.
When I look back on my nursing experience, I feel happy because it was special. But I also remember how hard it was to find a pump that fit my breasts. I remember how nursing accessories were usually quite unsuitable for my body shape. I remember the tapes in public.
A few years ago, I received a referral to have a breast reduction. Insurance would pay, and it would be plastic surgery, and I would no longer have to contend with these breasts I had spent years and years trying to hide. The plastic surgeon was kind; he told me he could do a good job. But then he told me I may not be able to nurse if I had another child. So I backed out, for now. But sometimes, on days when my shirt will not stay buttoned at work or when I notice I am slouching again to minimize my breasts, I will reconsider the surgery I could have gotten. I will probably get a reduction some day, for health reasons.
But for now, I am trying my best to love my G Cups, which, for the record, just don’t get smaller, despite me losing 20 pounds this spring and summer.
And I’m also trying to help those who may also have large breasts and feel like they spend too much time trying to hide their bodies. This isn’t how we are made. We aren’t made to hide. And we shouldn’t have to.
If you’re like me, you’ve tried to hide them and it just doesn’t work.
And all my life I’ve been told my head is in the clouds.
But I also seek solace here on earth, even though I’m not very good at being grounded.
Historically, the same things often work to soothe my soul, and some of them may be the same for you, too. Church. Music. Yoga. Dog cuddles. Human hugs. Therapy. Books. Movies. The ocean or mountains.
And then there’s that thing I’m kind of scared of but I do anyways and love it even though I have to make myself do it: meditation.
You see, meditation is rooted in being grounded. My meditative pose involves my feet being FIRMLY PLANTED ON THE GROUND and I’ve been told even if you are sitting up with a pretend string in your head pulling your body upright, you must be connected to the earth.
It’s a foundation for good meditation, I’ve been taught.
Since I’m a terrible meditator even though I enjoy it, I seek out opportunities to meditate in the community. A few years ago I did meditative yoga. I’ve taken mindfulness meditation classes through the library, community organizations and universities.
I’m currently attending a series entitled, “Exploring Mindfulness, Discovering Delight” through my local library district.
And through this class I have learned what makes meditation both difficult for me and rewarding: letting things be.
In this particular class, we don’t hum or recite a mantra or even close our eyes. We sit with a diffused gaze and let our thoughts come. We don’t encourage or discourage them, or follow trains of them. We simply acknowledge that we are thinking, and we continue to meditate. So many things go through my mind while I sit there. Each time, I ask the instructor questions afterwards. Is it, like, my subconscious bringing this or that up? What is the meaning of the song that ran through my head or the person I kept seeing?
And she always tells me the same thing.
It doesn’t matter. We don’t need an answer for it or to search for meaning in every thought. We shouldn’t be thinking about our thinking during meditation but rather just accepting what is, right now. Just be present.
Just be present.
The absolute hardest thing for me; the thing I work on constantly. My genes and my disposition and my anxiety disorder make it darn near impossible to live in the moment. I am always in the future or the past. A past that didn’t work out or COULD have or SHOULD have and a future that SHOULD be or COULD be or MAY be or HOPEFULLY WON’T be.
But the universe has been telling me often to let go out of the SHOULDS. Life is full of shoulds and woulds. And they don’t do a damn thing for us.
The only reality is the one we sit in, right now. And sometimes…..even just sometimes….it’s okay to just let it be.
Are you always seeking after your next great adventure? Even if you’re on one?!?
I am. And I think a lot of it is my avoidance of the present. Sometimes the present can be uncomfortable. So I avoid it.
We all love stories. True stories, fictional stories, stories with lessons, stories we tell ourselves to make sense of things, stories we follow to create rules, stories, stories, stories.
If I’m having a bad day, this is my mind:
“FIND A STORY, ALANA! QUICK! Go to church, see a movie, read a book, watch a YouTube video. Listen to music REALLY LOUDLY. FIND A STORY or…..PLAN A STORY!! PLAN YOUR NEXT STORY! MAKE IT HAPPEN!!! FOCUS ON ANYTHING EXCEPT RIGHT NOW!!!!! YOU CAN DOOOOOO IIIIIIIIIIIT.”
Okay, so my brain doesn’t exactly scream at me, but this is how I’m portraying it for emphasis. My mind doesn’t like to let things be.
But there is something freeing in letting go of the shoulds and woulds and coulds and cants. Maybe I haven’t discovered delight at my local library meditation class yet, but I think I’m on my way.
It is rather like the Serenity prayer: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Give me the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I’ve prayed that prayer a million times and I always focus on the part where I ask for courage to change things. Well, change isn’t my problem. It’s the first sentence of the prayer that I need to work on. And maybe you do, too. So I thought I’d write this blog post.
There was an empty cup in my son’s bedroom yesterday. I couldn’t muster the initiative to take it ALL THE WAY to the kitchen, so I kicked it out of his room into the hallway and partway down the stairs. It sat on the stairwell all of last night and this morning. I just walked by it on my way upstairs to write this, so I kicked it the rest of the way down.
The empty cup sits on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, annoyingly. Right in the way, and I know it’s there, and it bugs me, but I don’t want to go move it.
I sat down on my bed to listen to music and contemplate showering when I decided the cup was a strange situation and I needed to write about it. Why was I being so darn lazy about it?
I’m not sure.
I do keep looking at the time. Right now is 6th period. I’d be teaching my favorite class. We’re on World War I right now.
I finished student teaching on Friday, and it’s only Tuesday. I anticipated a slump, but I thought there’d be a honeymoon period first. You know, where I liked the fact the long days were over and I could breathe again.
But for some reason, I breathe better when I don’t have time to stop and focus on it.
Deep breathing feels good for a second, but I always overdo it until I get dizzy.
I finished student teaching on Friday and said awkward goodbyes. I carried my box of belongings to the car and drove away in the falling snow and cried a little bit because it was over. I called my mom and dad. I started to feel better.
Then I got stuck in a traffic jam and ran out of gas.
And then I sat there turning the car over and over and over (after getting two rides with strangers to the gas station and back) , wondering why it wouldn’t start even with gas in it. Wondering why no matter how often I repeated the same action, nothing worked.
Then my battery died.
I sat awaiting rescue in the cold and wondered why I didn’t feel elated. I FINISHED. Four months of long, exhausting days of teaching and not even getting paid. This was the culmination. Another graduate degree awaited me, another diploma which said I was GOOD at something – school.
Instead of elation, a ton of realities seemed to hit me at once as I sat in my dead car in the snow.
Our trip to Scotland was canceled, for a host of sad reasons.
We lost our plight regarding moving my mom to Colorado.
My dad was about to get on a bus to protest DAPL and I worried about him.
My best friend (who had been visiting) was back in Scotland.
And I sat in a dead car, with nothing to look forward to but empty expanses of time to think.
Officially, a slump.
First world problem, though, I thought. And I made myself get out of bed on Saturday.
I attended a political activism meeting and I felt a rush of adrenaline for the first time in a few days.
But then I threw up in the middle of the meeting, and that activity was ruined.
Because the icing on the cake of my life was a virus of some sort.
Yep, a slump.
An existential slump, a first-world problem slump, but still, a slump.
I keep thinking back to this time last year, when we were anxiously awaiting our son Alistair having his heart procedure in Minneapolis. To help combat the fear and anxiety of such a time, I enlisted Alistair on a a ‘kindness mission’ and we spent the weeks leading to his procedure doing random (and deliberate) acts of kindness. It’s something I tried to do every December since 2012, when I did the 26 acts of kindness for 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings.
But this December I’d just been thinking about getting through my work days and passing my assignments and graduating. I knew I was lucky not to have to think about Alistair getting a heart procedure done, but it didn’t really hit me.
And now, the slump has resulted in me not even putting away dishes. Just kicking them around the house.
I think the sight of that cup was pathetic enough to stir something in me. The Light the World campaign is going on right now, and it’s right up my alley with the kindness acts.
Over the next three weeks I will be posting about how I get out of this slump, starting with doing things for others again.
Below are some highlights of what we did last year, in 2015.
It’s me again, walking by my old school locker. ‘That used to the locker I shared with Susan,’ I think each time, and then I rush to my destination and start teaching history lessons again.
My personal history there, by my rusty locker, is of no real interest to anyone – just some portion of my brain which holds memory, thought, emotion, and evocation of these things, and keeps reminding me of them, unwittingly.
I can’t help but think of my teenage self in those same desks I teach at, walking those same halls. And the memories which come back to me have helped me realize something about THEN me and NOW me.
I was SO WRONG back then. Right?
Did I think I’d be thirty years old and a student teacher back at my high school? Not in the slightest. My best friend and I genuinely believed there was a chance we’d marry our favorite members of Nsync. We huddled together in relative seclusion, wrapped in our fantasy world. Was that wrong?
Well, technically. I mean, neither of us is married to Justin Timberlake.
But I say we weren’t wrong at all.
Our predictions were often way off as adolescents. Or at least, mine sure were. I thought I was in love with a person who loved me back. But it was limerence, an alluring lie I told myself. I thought I’d be living by the beach in California at 25. But I was living in North Dakota helping take care of my mom when I reached that age. I thought I’d be married to a Mormon, have eight kids and still have time to be a best-selling author. So far, none of former are reality.
Everyone always tells me what an optimist I am. How rose-tinted my glasses are, how naive I can be, how unrealistic my expectations of people are.
And I’ll often agree, wearing the label with the knowledge that yes, I am like that. Not the naivety, per say, but I can agree with being a bit too unrealistic .
Anything is possible, right?
And I think that’s true. Anything IS possible. But does life often have other plans for you?
You know that old adage – ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’
It is true. And a realization of life as something other than what I had in mind, due to circumstance, choice, choices of others, chance, God…..this is part of what happens when you reach adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve found life to be.
I think accepting the curve-balls, embracing the choices we maintain within some imposed limitations, and learning to love ourselves and others for for who we all ACTUALLY are is an important step to happiness and adulthood.
When I was a teenager – at the high school I still teach in every day – my friends and I would lament about how booooring Colorado Springs was. How conservative and closed-minded and ultimately booooring it was here. Was there ANYTHING to do? And oh, the slim pickings of date-able boys we moaned about ceaselessly. I couldn’t wait to move. California, Scotland, anywhere!
So we went to Scotland and thought it was, without a doubt, utopia. The guys were hot and like, so into us, yeah? Those accents! The stream of phone numbers and offers to date…wow, where had Scotland been all our lives?? Colorado Springs had NONE of this.
Fast forward a few years and my best friend and I were sitting around talking about how poor we were in Scotland, and how we missed the mountains. Oh, and Thanksgiving. We really needed pumpkin pie.
When I did move back to Colorado Springs, Scottish husband in tow, I was excited…for a few months.
Then it was the same old story, this time with a husband instead of my friend: it’s boring, it’s conservative, it’s just, like, totally lame. Time to move to Boulder. So we did.
And now we’re back.
And I’m seeing Colorado Springs through a lens which never would have been possible back then. I’m seeing it as a mom, as a working adult…as someone who now cares about good preschools and grocery stores.
I’m also seeing Colorado Springs with new eyes…the kind of eyes I refused to use when I lived here as a teenager and young adult. I’m seeing it as a place to settle down, a place to grow, and a place to raise my son.
And it’s like a totally different place.
Speaking to friends and relatives and therapists and folks beside me on plane rides, etc., I’ve come to the conclusion that while my experiences are my own, the sentiment is universal.
Life never turns out the way you planned it to.
What prompted me to write this blog post tonight? I was flicking through the radio stations and landed on ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. I’m not even a country fan but I was listening and it evoked the thought of how even if we don’t know how things are going to turn out, the journey usually makes it all worth it.
Don’t live a life of regret, but don’t live a life of undue expectation on yourself or others, either.
I remember the teenage me, every day at work now. How she spoke, how she dressed, how she talked. I can feel she is still a part of me. And I can see how despite how ‘wrong’ she was about the future, she was right, for that time and place.
Everyone is a work in progress. As John Mayer says…..’I’m in repair….I’m not together but I’m getting there.’
I’m working at my former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.
First, a list.
Things I did as a teenager:
Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning
I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.
Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)
Plugging their phones in during class to charge
Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.
But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way, the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.
Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however. In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.
The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:
The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future.
I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.
An us with a bright future, and little to fear.
Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.
Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers. As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.
For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.
Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.
Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.
But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.
Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.
So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.
But when I see them faced with the world we now live in, and their quiet acceptance that accompanies it….I see the biggest change of all.
And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.
I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one conversation in the past few months about how I am a sensitive person. They weren’t, for the most part, people telling me how great it is to be sensitive. I’ve often been told I’m sensitive like it’s a bad thing.
I’ll own it, though. Sensitive comes from the Latin sentire, or feel. And I feel things.
I also allow myself to be vulnerable. Or at least, I try. Vulnerable comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound.
I feel wounds.
I may be sensitive by nature, but I am vulnerable by choice. And I think everyone should strive for more vulnerability.
Seven years ago today I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I was living in Boulder, Colorado in university-owned apartments at the bottom of campus called Smiley Court. I rode my bike uphill to the main campus in first gear, dripping in sweat, for classes. I coasted back down the hill to my home with nothing but forward momentum, sometimes barely keeping control I was going so fast , and I was usually helmet-less. .This is not the kind of vulnerable I advocate for.
My mom had, a year earlier, jumped off a bridge in a suicide attempt. My last year of college was spent living two lives: the student who tried to blend in while learning about foreign policy and allowing herself dreams of changing the world, and the daughter who drove 6 hours every other weekend to the state mental hospital to visit her mentally ill mother, going through metal detectors, speaking to social workers and doctors (though, in all honestly, my husband and dad did much of that, as I tend to get angsty with authority figures).
For anyone who knows me, this isn’t news. It’s just my story. I graduated college, we all moved to North Dakota, and lived happily ever. Right?
Vulnerable stems from the word wound, but its modern definition is: the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you’re in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that’s unprotected by any defensive players. (Vocabularly.com)
You see, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not then. I just wanted to make things tidy, and help my parents get moved to this utopia I’d created in my head: Fargo, North Dakota. I thought it would be everything they needed, and my husband Alex and I could move to Washington, D.C. after spending a summer helping them get settled in and, to be honest, me fulfulling my need to mother my parents. But we’d taken a road trip to D.C. to check out our future. I saw myself walking those streets, changing the world.
Then my mom had emergency bowel surgery late that summer, and we didn’t move.
Okay, one more year would be okay. We put in our notice on our apartment the next May, and moved everything to my parents’ garage.
Then my mom got respiratory distress and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few scary days before being sent home with orders to live a different, healthier, life.
We didn’t move. Another year would be okay, just to make sure everything was okay. Okay?
I slowly felt my dreams changing. Like John Mayer sang in Born and Raised, ‘I’ve still got dreams…they’re not the same…they don’t fly as high as they used to.’
My husband and I had a baby. I decided to go back to school to be teacher instead of a politician. It seemed Fargo was our destiny. I believed in destiny, after all.
Back when we’d all moved from Colorado to North Dakota, it was me convincing both my mom and dad it would all we’d hoped for and more. I remember signing my mom out of the state mental hospital after a long year. She had no money, no possessions. She loved Colorado. She loved it so much. But I had lived in Colorado since 7th grade and it was just another boring state to me.
“North Dakota is where you belong, mom,” I said, and she protested that it was a stupid idea but I was stubborn and she had no leverage.
I didn’t realize how emotionally vulnerable it is to move. I had expectations, and vague memories of my younger years in Fargo. When these didn’t pan out, I grew mad at North Dakota. I didn’t WANT to be vulnerable.
I felt stuck, though. The perfect solution – the only solution- was a temporary move. It was the only way to do something good for Alex and I without sacrificing too much time away from helping my dad care for my mom.
And so in 2013, we made a purposeful, vulnerable decision. We moved to Scotland for one year, dates set. My husband’s family was there, and our son got to know his other grandmother, his cousins, etc.
When I stepped into my new classroom in Scotland, I recognized the buzz I got from new experiences. From exposing myself, emotionally. I guess I always knew this, but it was during this year abroad (where everything seemed condensed- our flat, my quickly-forged friendships, my writing) where I felt I was really able to look at my husband and son clearly. From a distance, everything in the USA seemed clearer, as well.
It’s always a risk to lay yourself out there. I think I learned to be purposefully vulnerable, and not just sensitive, when I was in Scotland that year.
And while my blog often speaks of authenticity, I think being vulnerable is an important part of that. It leaves you open to being hurt. It leaves you open to fail. But it also leaves you open to great things, new things, better things.
The only way to know…. is to be vulnerable.
I think social media (and I’m a fan, I am) encourages us to hide our vulnerability. I try not to. I do, on a quite regular basis, have old friends contact me to ask if everything is ‘okay’ for me? (And if this is you, I actually really appreciate it and I love people showing they care). When this happens I wonder if I’m being *too* visibly vulnerable. But that quickly passes as I realize it’s actually a bit like a pat on that back that I am doing it right – being authentic, being vulnerable.
I think ‘real life’ also encourages us to hide our vulnerability or not seek it out. No one wants to be seen as weak, right? No one wants to look like they’re floundering.
But it’s no secret I am a flounderer. And I don’t mind floundering for a bit, as long as my family is safe.
This summer, my husband, son and I are moving back to Colorado Springs. After seven years of trying to make North Dakota work for us, we just know the life we want for ourselves and our son Alistair lies elsewhere. It’s nothing against North Dakota. I’m like Josh Duhamel. I will wear shirts that say Fargo and go on the TODAY Show and talk about how wonderful it is, if they want me.
Because…if you have what you need here, North Dakota can be nice. If you have a house (not a tiny apartment) — to get you through the cold winters with a space to run and play — the winters can be okay. If you have auto-start on your car, you don’t HAVE to freeze. If you have ‘toys’ for summer – a boat, heck, a paddle board – and a place to go, summers can be lovely. The people ARE as nice as everyone says, as a general rule. I’ve found great community within my church and within a local mom’s group. If you have your people here, North Dakota can be great.
But we don’t have a house, a paddle board, a lake, auto-start or a clan. Our ‘people’ move a lot (thanks, friends, for always moving away -ha-), the family we ARE in touch with in this area don’t live close to us at all (except my dad, but he is part of ‘we’ , my immediate family) and the magical life we envisioned for my mom never happened. (She’s in Minnesota’s mental health system, which, for the record, isn’t any better than Colorado’s….)
So, we are returning to Colorado in stages this summer. I find Colorado to be MY roots and they are Alex’s American roots. The details are tedious, but by summer’s end, me, Alistair, Alex, my dad AND my mom should all be back in Colorado.
My mom, who kept telling us over and over as we drove through the midwest to bring her up to North Dakota, ‘This is a bad idea!’ is not going to be left behind. She’s under a psychiatric commitment until September, but essentially lives in a central Minneapolis slum nursing home. I’ve never seen anything like it in Colorado. The housing couldn’t be worse than where she is, so it seems like a good time to bring her back to where she raised me. (She has two sisters in the Minneapolis area who are very, very good at visiting her and being there for her, but they are the same sisters who used to visit us in Colorado, so same difference, more or less). Most importantly, it ‘s my mom’s ‘dream’ to return to Colorado.
And if we can make dreams come true….we should.
Life goes in cycles.
I’m goin’ back to my roots.
I think this blog post goes under YAGE.
See ya later, Fargo. Hello, graduation, teaching, and a fresh start…..again.
Since this blog was mainly autobiographical , I’d suggest this TED Talk for an actual expert opinion on being vulnerable: