For This Life

The sun sets a little faster now, the leaves have turned from green to yellow, falling to the ground, crunching under my feet as I rush the kids to and from their various activities. The sounds of them playing in our yard have switched from splashing water, and to raking those crunchy fallen leafs into piles and more piles so they can dive into them, over and over again. It’s the time of year when I watch the forecast closely, wondering when the snow will demand that my husband work longer hours, going days without seeing the kids.

For now, we have a moment. A brief moment before the snow settles in with the brutal cold, before the days become terribly short, before we begin to make our new years resolutions and wonder if we did enough this year. It’s a blissful moment where we can meditate, reflect and remember all of the wonderful things we have to be grateful for.

And, we are blessed, my little family.  I know I don’t show gratitude nearly enough. I don’t always tell my husband how proud I am of him, for the hard work, and long hours he puts in every single time he goes to work. I know that I forget to say thank you to my kids for the things they do that make my heart burst with pride, because it feels like a neverending battle to get them to just listen. Sometimes, it’s just so much easier to get stuck in that rut of complaining about all the things that don’t seem to go quite right. We (I) get caught up in the frustrations of life, and I know I personally don’t take enough time to count my blessings.

I have a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving and the outpouring of gratitude that happens as a result of it. For me, it all feels contrived. It feels forced, too planned. Every year, no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, I try to reflect on what I’m truly grateful for, and I always feel like my list is boring or not enough. There is this pressure, it seems, to dump all the gratitude we feel for the things and people in our life, in one solitary day. Obviously, there’s so much wrong with this, and perhaps, this is why, as I meditate on my personal gratitudes, I feel both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by my list.

THANKSGIVINGAs we sat around our  bountiful Thanksgiving table, I forced asked my family to go around the table and say what they were grateful for. My husband started off saying he was grateful for all of us being patient with his hours, and his work. Girlie went next saying she was grateful that she had her brother to play with, who then responded in kind to his sister. When it came my turn, a long list ran through my mind, but this was all I managed,

“I’m grateful that I have you all in my life.” 

Simple, yet without them, I’d have so much less. I wouldn’t have a fridge covered in artwork curated especially for me. I wouldn’t have someone sneaking into my bed at night to snuggle. I wouldn’t fall over laughing in my kitchen when my husband plays silly games with the kids, ones that make no sense to anyone but them. No one would rush to squeeze in between my husband and I when we steal a moment of love together. I wouldn’t have been able to pick up the phone while I was stuffing the turkey and share a laugh with my Mother In Law before passing the phone to eager, outstretched arms. I wouldn’t have bedtime stories to read, someone to discuss the plot points of The Walking Dead or someone to tease about his terrible music choices. Maybe without them I wouldn’t have my best friends. One who has known my kids since they were one, drinks fabulous red wine with me, and admits that parenting isn’t always what we thought it would be as our kids age. The other, a woman who I consider my soulmate, the kind that you search for your whole life. It was our kids that connected us, and it was our kids that fell in love with one another, solidifying our friendship further. Now, despite the long distance between us, we do our best through our ridiculous texts and occasional phone calls to keep in touch. Would I have them without my family? I don’t really know.

I am, even if I don’t remember to say it, grateful for this life. For all of it. For all the imperfections, the beauty, the expected and the unexpected. I’m grateful for every single person who has been in my life, for the ones who have taught me much then moved on, and the ones who continue to teach me, but stay. I’m grateful for all the things I can’t even begin to know that I’m grateful for yet, the things that will happen into my life, either by hard work, or by chance. I’m grateful for the past that I’m coming to terms with, because it’s allowed me to grow, and evolve into the woman I am right now. I’m grateful for love, and those around me that show me the diverse depth of it. I’m grateful for my words, the ones I use to communicate with people in my life, and the ones that splay across these pages.

No matter how many things I list, they all point back to the same thing: My family.

They have, in the small time we’ve been a family, have afforded me so much richness. For that, I am blessed. For that, I am eternally, and always grateful.

An Opinion Isn’t Our Life: My Opinion on All Those Opinions

Growing up, I was taught, every Sunday at church, that my sole purpose in life was to bear children, then stay at home with them. From the moment I was born, because I had the parts that would typically define me as female, it was a given that I would have babies. A lot of of them. I would spend my life serving my husband, others, and the church. For years, this was the version of my future I was sold. Even my own mother, who was highly educated and worked outside the home, bought into this rhetoric, and sold it to both her daughters.

In all honesty, I never had dreams or aspirations of being a stay at home parent. I mean, I wanted to get married, maybe, and I definitely wanted to have kids, but not a pack of them. I had no particular feelings about staying at home or not, despite the indoctrination I was subjected to.  It all seemed so far away to me, so untouchable and unimportant. I did know that when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer. The rest was just noise.

When I was about 13 years old, I had come home from school, like any other weekday. My mother was in the corner of our tiny townhouse kitchen, speaking to someone on our red cordless phone. She was saying very little, but as I started rattling around the kitchen, she turned to me to hush me, and I saw that her eyes were red. It startled me: She was crying. My mother, the woman who showed no emotion other than anger, was crying. Unsure how to handle the situation, I ran upstairs to my room. Later that night, as my curiosity bested me, I learned that a local church member had thought it appropriate to call her to chastise her choice to pursue higher education. I never forget that day in the kitchen, the day when I saw a tiny sliver of humanity in my own mother. The day when I saw the impact of a woman judging another woman for her personal life choices.

It’s been well over a decade since that day. Now, I have my own family, my own life, my own choices to make – ones for me, and of course, my family. In the past I’ve been a working mother, but more recently, I’ve gained the title of stay at home mother. There’s not really an efficient way to sum up how and why that has occurred other than to be cliche: It’s just works for our family, right now. As tired as that statement is, it’s just simply the truth.

opinionOf course, I always knew that the Working Mom versus Stay At Home Mom arguments were still alive and well with supposed controversy. In fact, I’m certain it provides oxygen to the monster Mommy Wars, a battle that was waging long before I showed up on the scene. There are those who believe a woman staying at home is an insult to feminism. There are some who tell you hell is about to open up and swallow us all whole because women work outside the home. There are others who tell you that women stay at home have it so easy and should be grateful. There are those who surmise that women who work were not really cut out to be mothers in the first place, and should not have had children. On and on it goes, a long list of insulting, contrite statements that are not applicable to the grand majority of us.

This rhetoric comes from every angle; “In Real Life” and of course, because the internet is a gift that keeps giving, we get it from strangers using their keystrokes to deliver their superiority. All of it, a constant flow of unfiltered opinions because everyone has the “right” to say whatever they want. Since you have a child, be it your first, second or even seventh, you are obviously in desperate, dire need of advice. Your cousin, your friend from high school, your mother, and mother in law, grandmother, sister, brother, stranger, coworker: They all have something to say about how you are being a mother, a partner, a woman.

I’ve gotten used to the random advice on my kids. The weird comments, the know it all statements, the passive aggressive insults cloaked as helpful commentary. Where it once would bring me to tears and scare me into hiding in my house, now it rarely even registers with me. That ability comes with time. Your skin gets thicker and you learn to just let those opinions roll off your shoulders. I can smile and nod with the best of them. I can say thank you without breaking a sweat and feeling like I have to explain our entire life to a stranger. I can post a status about my kids and ignore a know it all comment from someone because it’s simply a waste of my time. Being a parent has taught me the hard and fast rules of Battles: Some are worth fighting, some are not.

Recently, I posted this piece, Being A Stay At Home Parent is a Luxury…For Your Spouse on Facebook that presents the idea that for a working parent, having a stay at home parent is actually a luxury for them. I’d never actually considered this position, mostly opting to stick to the expected commentary about how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to stay home. Because, that’s exactly what is expected. I am grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. I really am.

But.

My constant presence at home does allow my husband the freedom to do what he needs to do in order to climb the corporate ladder.When he needs to log extra hours at work, late into the evening? He can. He doesn’t have to worry about the kids missing their extracurricular activities, or race home to make sure dinner is started for them. Because I’m home, he can focus his attention on work. He is lucky that I am here to do the things that are just as much his responsibility as a father. He is afforded a luxury by not having to worry about those things on a day to day basis.

After I posted the above article, I broke the first cardinal rule of being a stay at home mom. I admitted publicly that my husband sometimes takes my presence for granted. Suddenly, I was bombarded with “shoulds” and passive aggressive statements, that actually became more aggressive as I stood up for myself and my feelings.

My role was an expectation. My role is easy because I can’t technically be fired, because of supposed flexibility, because I supposedly get to choose my job description. There was a Working Vs Not Working mother comparison, and a statement that one is harder than the other. I don’t get paid for my job, so therefore my husband’s work is more important than what I do in the home. There was the blatant insinuation that my husband works harder than I do. Basically, I was told to shut up, and sit down. The final, swift slap in the face of all stay at home mothers alike: I needed to be grateful, because apparently stating that I have needs means I’m ungrateful for the paycheque my husband brings home.

This isn’t a manifesto about how hard it is to be a stay at home mom, though can I just say, on some days, it is really tough. But, that’s like any rewarding job. There are days when you love your job, and there are times when you feel undervalued, overworked, and most definitely underpaid. We all feel that way sometimes, no matter what we do. We all feel the pressure of society breathing down our necks asking us to account for our every minute, explain our personal decisions, daring us to even whisper a single complaint, because how dare we even admit our humanity. How dare we expect that we’re shown a little respect for the things we do, no matter what we’re paid or not paid. How dare I expect that my husband would meet my own emotional needs by telling me that he appreciates the hard work I do to make his life that much easier. How dare I.

Despite the utter disappointment I felt in knowing that there was a loved one out there that thought so lowly of me and other women, I realized that these statements weren’t necessarily about me. This old debate has been circling the drain for years, unwilling to just go away, and that commentary made me realize, it likely would never go away.

The fact that my working mother was dealing with the same ridiculous diatribe that I, a stay at home mother am dealing with decades later, just proves that there will always be people who get off on telling people they are doing it wrong. They enjoy being superior, they enjoy reveling in their own history, even if it’s not applicable now. The loudness of their opinion doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t mean that my role should be undervalued, or better than. It just means that they think judging my life decisions is more important than supporting me as a person. As a fellow human being.

We need to just leave these persons in their corner of the world, or the internet, and let them chew on themselves with the self-righteous superiority. Let them wallow in their smugness, and so called expertise. However, let’s not ever forget the way we felt when they rained down on our decisions. We need to remember that feeling so we never do it to anyone else.

Go and do what works for your family. The rest of it? The opinions? It’s just noise.

Label All The Things: Mabel’s Labels Giveaway

Look! Our before school routine is so smooth we even have time to draw pictures! (Not Shown: Fight over pants. Bumped nose. Whines over being tired. Requests to find socks. Informed that jacket is unwearable).
Look! Our before school routine is so smooth we even have time to draw pictures! (Not Shown: Fight over pants. Bumped nose. Whines over being tired. Requests to find socks. Informed that jacket is unwearable).

Phew. We made it through September. Obviously, I say that like we totally have our shit together, and the morning rush to get both the kids to school on time is not complete madness.  There is no yelling or heavy sighing. There is absolutely no crying because someone doesn’t like to wear pants, and I tell her that it’s a hard fact we all have live with but that doesn’t help. In fact, just completely ignore my last post.  Please assume that I still make the lunches in the evening, have never been late dropping the kids off and have never, ever run around the house looking for just one matching pair of socks while holding five unmatching pairs in my hand.  Nope. We totally have magical, amazing, blissful school mornings around here. As I’m sure you all do. At least Pinterest tells me that’s how it goes down in your home.

Last year was our first introduction to Back To School Madness. Mind you, we only had to wrangle one child, two or three times a week, so it was more like we got to dip our toes in first. However, we were not exempt from the dreaded back to school list. I know in some places these lists don’t exist, and for those of you who don’t have to deal with Back To School lists? You are lucky, and I might hate you, just a little. Of course, because I was a new Mom, I assumed, “Oh, yeah, this stuff will be super easy to find.” Stop laughing at Last Year Me. She was just a newbie to this world, and so innocent.  Obviously, I waited until the very last minute. Because it was not going to be complicated.

Stop laughing.

Two adults, four stores, and several hours later, we managed to find everything. Except the labels. The plan had ultimately been to order a package from Mabel’s Labels, but because I procrastinated, it was no longer an option. So I had someone print off a bunch of cool paper ones off, and voila, the list was complete.  All that was left to do was to assemble and label all items before the first day of school.

I stupidly thought that the paper labels would do just fine. Until they didn’t. Like the one for my son’s lunch box that I ended up having to tape to his lunch kit with packing tape because it just would not stay put. Or the multiple paper labels that filled his pencil box at school because they just wouldn’t stay on the crayons. Eventually, I wound up grabbing a package of Fill in Your Name Mabel’s Labels from a local store here, and randomly slapped those on anything that came home that needed to be relabeled.

I learned my lesson, of course.

This year, at BlogHer ’14, during the amazing closing party, I met the owner of Mabel’s Labels.  It was our mutual love of unique names that made me love her just a little more, as she gushed over my daugher’s real name. She offered me her card, and said we’d work together because Canadians are awesome. We are.

Yes, September is over. Yes, you’ve likely labeled all of your items, and probably with Mabel’s Labels, because you were smarter than Last Year Me. However, we all know next year, all of the things will need a label. Or maybe, you are like Last Year Me and just figured paper labels would work just as well as Mabel’s Labels (they don’t, trust me).

We got the Ultimate Back To School package this year. While the obvious durability of the labels were my favorite part, I also loved the variety of sizes, and that they stuck to everything like crazy glue. My son absolutely adored the keychain, and proudly added it to his backpack.  There were enough labels in this package for me to label the most important items in his school list, even with quite a bit remaining for next year. Awesome!

In an effort to be super prepared, I’m partnering with Mabel’s Labels to do a Giveaway for the Ultimate Back To School Package. You get to benefit from the naive and innocent Last Year Me, and be a step ahead of her by getting this package way ahead of schedule!

Here’s what you can do:

Comment below telling me why you love Mabel’s Labels, if you’ve used them before, or why you’d love to try them.

For extra entries: 

Please leave links in the comments verifying that you’ve completed any of the following, for 1 extra entry per item. 

Like Another Version of Mother on Facebook

Share the Giveaway on Facebook

Tweet this post on Twitter 

The Rules

  • The contest will close be open for one week (ending on October 7th at Midnight MST)
  • Contest is open to US and Canadian Residents only. 
  • Before the winner is announced, links and shares will be verified. 
  • Please leave an email address so I can contact you. If there is no way of me to contact you, then your entry will be void, and a new winner will be picked. 
  • The winner must contact me within 24 hours of being picked to claim their prize, if not, a new winner will be picked. 

I’m Sorry You Won’t Hear I’m Sorry

By the middle of last week, I was not terribly pleasant to be around. I’m pretty sure if I was a cartoon you’d be able to see a cloud of angry clouds brewing around my head. I could feel the rumblings of this Terrible No Good, Awful Bad Mood when I snapped at my son as I was trying to hustle both kids out the door for school. He’d forgotten his water bottle, and of course, because Murphy’s an asshole who knew that we were already running behind, he also had no idea where it was. I may have stomped back up the stairs from my waiting spot at the door, mumbling about children leaving school stuff in the same spot, and not just tossing it everywhere, because my god, don’t they know I have to deal with finding it later?! I definitely slammed the cupboards closed hoping that it might alleviate the rising frustration I felt. It didn’t. There was a string of explicit words as my eye caught the time on the clock, and realized we had to be gone five minutes ago. When I finally found that water bottle, I filled it as angrily as I could possibly manage before thrusting it into the waiting hands of my son. Then, because my tantrum wasn’t fully complete, I ushered both the kids out of the house, still semi-ranting about the lost bottle that was now found.

I did apologize, moments later. Of course, because it’s just who he is, he smiled that bright smile and said that we all have bad days. We were okay now. Even if I felt sheepish. Saying sorry did make feel a little better, but it didn’t completely stave off the guilt for not being the better version of myself that morning.

The truth was, I was in a bit of an emotional haze, stumbling to gather my bearings. The afternoon prior, I’d received a message from someone telling me that someone that I trust and love was saying terrible things about me. Words like manipulative, and liar were used. Adding to the long list of not so lovely things this person was saying was a message that had been sent, one that had been written with the intention that I would never see it. I had burst into tears. The context of the insults didn’t even matter; this person had taken the words of my husband, twisted them, and laid the blame firmly on my shoulders,

Obviously, I was upset. Mostly though, I felt stupid. Incredibly stupid for trusting this person and thinking we were past this juvenile stage of our relationship.

In that moment of feeling stupid, I picked up the phone and called my husband. Indirectly, somehow, I blamed him for this person’s thoughtless behavior. The reason I’d simplified in my head made perfect sense. So I ran with it, ranting, and expressing, in between the pockets of anger, my hurt.

He hung up on me.

In that moment, I would have told you that I didn’t deserve it.

But I did. Because, it just wasn’t his fault.

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Image Credit: Leyram Odacrem

When he came home later, we’d argued discussed the situation. When we finally stopped baring our teeth at one another, we came to the same conclusion: There would be no apology. We could confront her with the expectation of no responsibility being taken, but would it solve the issue, or cause more problems? We knew from previous experiences that it might help, but that it would also add fuel to this person’s already burning bonfire.

Then, either because it was late, or because we were emotionally exhausted, we just left it at that. I thought the conversation had helped me move on, because I knew there wasn’t much else we could do. I would just have to accept, again, that there would be no apology. Just let this shit roll of your back, I repeated.

Roll, roll, roll.

Yet, I couldn’t. Because, as much as I wanted to just cooly pretend like her words meant nothing to me, they did. They hurt because they were harsh. Because I’m human. Because I care about this person, dearly. Because it fucking sucks when someone you loves says awful things about you, for no good reason.

After both the kids were in school, and I was tucked into my corner seat in the living room, a cup of black coffee in hand, I called my husband. This time I asked if he was busy. Through my tears, I told him how I wasn’t sure how to just let this go. I told him that it was unfair that I was expected to just let this roll off my back, because it was kind of A Big Deal. I told him it sucked that she said those things, and that I felt like it was a giant step backward in the relationship I’d been carefully constructing with her. He listened before he confessed,

“I’m upset too, Danielle. You did nothing wrong, and it makes me frustrated that my words were twisted because I chose to be nice. It makes me sad that she didn’t take responsibility, and instead just pawned it off on you. I’m mad at her, for you. I feel helpless, because what do you do when someone is clearly not going to listen? Do we just say them anyway? I just don’t know….I’m sorry she said those things about you. I really am.”

It didn’t make all the hurt magically disappear. The simple phrase, “I’m Sorry” opened up a space where I felt validated, heard, and understood. It made those cartoon storm clouds part, and allow for a ray of sun to come through. It made me realize that if I need to take some time to regain my focus, I can.  It made it much easier for me to just let that shit roll off my back. Because, with some people (especially family), it’s your only option. It made it easier for me to say to my husband, “No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault she said those things. Maybe she was just having a bad day?”

Because, we all have those bad days.

So, There Was a Wedding

I think I said, “I remember why we did a small wedding” about eleventy billion times last weekend. I meant no offense to my beautiful sister-in-law who had spent the last two years planning her and her fiance’s big day, but oh my god, it was a lot of work. A lot of standing. A lot of discussing. A lot of early mornings. A lot of snow. A lot of “Oh no, we’re missing something!” Did I mention the snow? Because there was a lot of snow and of course, snow removal.

And a lot of wine. I wasn’t about to let that bottle of white wine go untouched when it was already uncorked at our table. What a tragic waste it would have been. I’m a team player, really.

Despite the mishaps, and setbacks (snow), when the day of the wedding arrived, the sun was beaming beautifully, just as it needed to do. The ceremony location was set up, and completely devoid of snow, ready for all the guests. Family lined the simplistic, and rustic DIY benches, eager with anticipation to hear the vows. The Padre, a personal friend of the groom was articulate, smooth, and delivered exceptionally as the officiant. The vows were written by both the bride and groom, complete with inside jokes, personal anecdotes, and promises of love beyond.  The bridesmaids were beautiful, and the groomsmen handsome. And the bride, oh, she was stunning.

Of course, there were these two.

wedding

I may or may not have bawled when they came down the aisle, hand in hand. We’d practiced this for months leading up to the wedding, using our hallway in our house as a guide. We talked about standing with the wedding party and being exceptionally quiet, but reminding them that quiet didn’t mean not breathing, so please remember to breathe. They nailed it during the three different run through’s the night before, and we were optimistic that any meltdowns or anxiety could be staved off. When it came their turn to walk down the grassy aisle, they nailed it. I think my entire chest was overflowing with so much pride watching them.

It may have been the smallish bribe of a present that lured them toward the end of the aisle. Of course, Potato took this offer with intense seriousness. When his sister almost didn’t walk down the aisle, I was told he just took her hand and said, “Come on, I’ll walk with you. It’ll be okay.” Because, that’s what big brother’s do, right? Together, they walked down the aisle, she raced to my side the moment she saw me, and he stood with the groomsmen, and even walked out with the wedding party at the end. At the end of the ceremony when he finally found me, he declared,  “I was SO quiet! I get my present, right?!”

He was quite pleased with his Star Wars Light Sabre and Kristoff doll. His sister was pleased with her brand new Anna Baby Doll. Can you tell we’re still in the ZOMGFROZEN stage in our house?

The reception was beautiful, both in decorations (thank you very much, it was a long ten hours of setup, and worth it in the end), and the program hosted by my husband and a good friend of my now brother in law, was light, funny, and personal. For all the twitching I did as my husband rushed to complete his side of the program in the few days running up to the wedding, he really hit out of the park. His stories about his sister were just spot on, the perfect mix of her and him. The speeches by the parents were both funny, and my favorite was from my father in law who made me look at my daughter and think, “No, it can’t go by that fast.”  My husband looked handsome, because that’s generally what he does, and helped to make sure the whole reception ran smoothly for his little sister.

I say all of that, even though he yelled at me quite animatedly when we teamed up to play beer pong against his brother and cousin. Ahem.

Yes, there was beer pong. At any event with my husband’s family, some sort of drinking game always arises. Or someone talks like a pirate. Or dances with their shirt off. This time, someone may or may not have lost a tooth later in the night which may or may not have sent me into fits of giggles when I would ask him to smile. Beer Pong retired for the evening after that incident. Oddly enough.

Family gatherings with my in-laws are most definitely never dull.

Of course, there was dancing and a cake made with love. There were children running about, my own excitedly telling me how happy they were to be playing with “cousins”. There were relatives that I haven’t seen for years, and great conversations about where everyone is in their life. There was love wrapping every single person up on that day. It was such a perfect way to start their lives together as partners in crime, surrounded by love and laughter.

Here’s to a hundred years of happiness to the newlyweds.

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Image Credit: Lorelei Hoffarth Photography

Talking About Teen Pregnancy and Coercion, As One Does

On Friday morning, at BlogHer in San Jose, I saw Liz Henry across the room. She’s been someone I’ve followed on Twitter and Facebook for some time. I may or may not have been messaging her regularly to make sure she was still coming to San Jose, because I absolutely had to have a fangirl moment with her, awkward or not. So when I saw her, I gathered up all of my introverted self, and excused me from the comfortable group of women I was travelling with, and marched myself right into her personal bubble:

“I saw your resting bitch face from across the room, and I just knew that was my person!” I gushed awkwardly directly to an almost stranger’s face.

Of course, Liz shares a similar sense of humor, and she lit up, while dropping a few f-bombs in my direction.  We giggled to ourselves, and found ourselves a table among the hundred or so other attendees. Mid bite, she leaned over and said, “What are we going to do about getting you published elsewhere?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

What came from that conversation besides an amazing feeling of knowing there was someone out there who believed in my writing, and wanted to mentor me in getting it further beyond just this space, was a beautiful, f-bomb laced friendship. And a sounding board. The kind that I could send things to and say, “Oh I was thinking I’d just put this on my blog” with her response being, blunt and honest, “Uh, no. Submit it. Tighten it, but submit it.”

I didn’t send her this piece. I actually, for some reason, believed it didn’t need a second set of eyes. When I heard back just hours later from an editor at XOjane, I was floored. They wanted to publish my piece. They liked it. They also wanted to pay me for it.  I told only my husband about it, because I was still worried that maybe they’d come back and go, “Uhhh, on second thought, we don’t want it anymore.”

Until I saw my picture on my Facebook feed today. Pregnant, 17 year old me. The girl that I write about adoption, and all the mess it can entail, for. The girl who felt she had no choice because everyone around her took it from her. There she was, that beautiful girl, in front of me with the bold headline:

I Was A Teen Mom Who Was Coerced Into Giving My Child Up For Adoption.  

My heart stopped for a second, while my eyes became wet with tears.

It’s taken more than a decade, but we’ve found our voice. Hopefully, that voice helps others understand the importance of making sure that women are given actual choices, and not demands. Maybe that voice will help people understand that adoption isn’t a pristine practice, and at the very best of times, even in the good adoptions, it’s a murky. Perhaps my story will cause even one parent to pause before pulling the trigger with their daughter, and actually investigate the options available, including the organizations that are hosting said options. Ideally, all of those things would happen.

In the meantime, you can head over and see the piece in it’s fully glory. Share it, Tweet it, email it. I think it’s an important story, not because it’s my own because, I know that I’m not the only woman who was cornered and forced to believe she had no other option. And that’s not good enough.

The Kindness of A Stranger

“I’ll be right back, ” I said to the lady manning the UPS counter. I directed my daughter who was all but trying to climb the walls in the tiny office, out the glass doors and back into the parking lot.

We quickly walked back to the car, where I’d left my phone. I unlocked the car doors, placed Girlie in the back and grabbed my phone. My mind was racing; I needed that package. It contained the dress I was going to wear to my sister in law’s wedding the following week. I’d purposely come into the city, over an hour drive away from our home, early so I wouldn’t be racing around in the days prior to our trip. My to-do list was structured carefully, and of course, I hadn’t made any room for Murphy’s Law.

My bank card was not working in their debit machine. I’d just used it to fill up with gas, and grab a coffee, so I knew it wasn’t the card. The funds were there. I also knew that no matter how slowly I pushed it into the machine, it just kept coming up with an error as though my card was broken. So, I would just transfer the money to my other bank card, and we’d be finished.

Or so I thought.

My phone refused to load any of my apps. Once again, Murphy seemed to be taunting me. My phone had just worked fine, using the internal GPS to guide me to the UPS office so I could pick up the damn dress, and pay the stupid duty. Frustrated, I reset my phone, and tried again. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What was I going to do? They didn’t take cash, and I couldn’t get either of my cards to work. It meant my drive into the city was mostly wasted. Frustration lined my body. It didn’t have to be this difficult. With the sun blaring on my face, I opened Girlie’s door, “Come on, we’re going to go try this again.”

We had to wait in line again. Girlie’s patience was wearing thin (as was mine), the air conditioning on much too high in the dank closet of a waiting room, my annoyance peaking as the counter attendant made her way through the line at a snail’s pace. Finally, it was our turn. Again.

“Let’s try my card once more.”

The error message returned.

“Your machine is broken,” I snapped, “I just used it somewhere else.” The woman didn’t respond.

“What can I do?”

“You can pay by cheque.”

“Who in the world carries cheques around?” I nearly exploded at her. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Can someone else come and pick up this package for me? I live an hour out of town. I just drove an hour to get it, your machine is broken, and I cannot get my package as a result. I need the dress for my sister in law’s wedding.”

“Sure. Just have them bring in the slip,” she responded nonchalantly. kindness

“Can I have it back?”

Her eyes went wide, “Uh sure. I think I threw it out. Let me check the garbage.”

I sighed, as she hefted the tiny garbage can full of other yellow slips onto the counter, and began to pilfer through it’s contents.

Halfway through her search, a voice behind me spoke,

“How much is the duty?”

I whirled around to face a middle aged man.

“It’s just $13 and change. They won’t take cash, their machine won’t take my card, and I don’t carry cheques.”

“Yeah, who does?” he laughed, “You said you live out of town?”

I nodded, “Over an hour out. If she can find the slip, I’ll just send my husband in.”

We both peered at the lady who was still digging in the garbage for my slip.

“I’ll pay it for you.”

“What?”

“I’ll pay the charges. It doesn’t make sense for you to have to make another trip because these guys have ridiculous policies on payments, and can’t afford to have a functioning debit machine.”

“You don’t have to do that.” I stammered, stunned.

“It’s only $13, I don’t mind.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he responded and moved toward the counter, “I’ll pay the duty,” he explained to the lady.

“Oh, I can’t let you do that,” the lady reponded, her hands still in the garbage can.

He laughed, “You aren’t serious? She lives out of town which you can clearly see on her package, your machine isn’t working,  and you won’t take cash. So, I’ll pay.”

“Well, it’s just that it has to have her name on it….”

I rolled my eyes, “This is a joke. You know if someone pays with debit, you don’t have their name, right? I’m okay with him paying. I just want the package.”

Her eyes darted between me and this stranger, she sighed, and said, “Fine.”

The machine made the same error for this kind man, but unlike my card that has swipe protection built in, the swipe worked for him. The receipts printed off, and he handed me one.

“Here, keep this, just in case.”

The lady handed me my package after I signed some forms. With tears in my eyes, I turned to this kind man and said, “Thank you so much. You just saved me an extra trip. You didn’t have to be so kind. Thank you.”

“Of course. Enjoy your sister in law’s wedding!”

“I will. I will. Thank you! C’mon, Girlie, we’re finished here.”

As we made our way back onto the city roads, I let the kindness of this man fill my body. Sometimes, we forget that we live in a society with other people who are so kind. The sort of people who would just randomly pay the stupid duty on a stupid package because a stupid machine wasn’t working, and think nothing of it.

I want to be like that. I want to be the kind middle aged man who paid the duty of a perfect stranger, because it was helpful, and a nice thing to do. Because kindness really is everything.

Nail Polish Wouldn’t Have Helped Me

Warning: This post discusses a sexual assault that occurred during my high school career. There is some graphic descriptions, which could potentially be triggering to some. Read with caution and at your own discretion. 

 

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Image Credit: Melanie Tata

 

Recently, a nail polish has been making headlines because of it’s supposed ability to test for date rape drugs in drinks. It’s being heralded as a breakthrough, and a solution to the epidemic of rape.

Besides the obvious problem that it places the onus on women to protect themselves from rape, is this really a solution, at all? Realistically, this nail polish is only a tool in the massive bag of tricks we women are expected to tote around; it’s one more thing we’re “supposed to do”. It’s also one more thing that will inevitably be used against us.

When women are sexually assaulted or raped, nothing they wear, they did or didn’t do is of much importance. Focusing on these inane details detract from the bigger problem with rape and sexual assault, the fact that rape will happen even if a woman is doing absolutely everything to protect herself. You may wear this polish, find your drink is positive, and decide to leave that location. Success, right? Not exactly. One of two things will happen: Either the rapist will still rape you despite you not being drugged, or he will move on to another victim.

Rape will still happen. Drugs or not, that’s the cold hard truth.

If the nail polish or any of the other products available make your feel more confident when you are out, then by all means, use it. However, we should be aware that this is not a solution. Rape culture goes beyond even the actual act of rape; it’s in how women are treated when they come forward from these traumas.

Part of that includes us not telling women, subtly or not so, that they are the ones that need to protect themselves from rape or sexual assault.

In my senior year of high school, I was sexually assaulted. The response of those around me introduced me without even knowing it existed, to rape culture. Because, they told me, everything I did before, during, and even after, made the assault my fault.

And, it just wasn’t.

When he took the chair next to mine, I didn’t think much of it. We weren’t friends, but we had a lot of mutual friends. I had no reason to suspect that his intentions in sitting next to me were anything but innocent.

It started off as awkward flirting, only from him, and I wasn’t reciprocating. I tried to exclude him from the conversation, especially after he rather disgusting comment about my breasts. While I was somewhat used to the commentary, it still made me wildly uncomfortable. Ignoring his comments did not work to detract him.

There was a lull in the conversation when I first felt his hand on my leg. I pushed it off and slid my chair away. A minute or two later, he slid his chair closer, slowly. I felt his hand again. I moved, he moved. I pushed his hand away, he put it back. I moved, he moved. This went on until I had no where else to move, and when his hand was no longer movable. My only options were now to get up and walk out, but I somehow convinced myself that it wouldn’t go any further.

He knew I was trapped. The girls that were at the table later told me they assumed I was okay with his advances, based on my dating history. They were so wrapped up in their own subtle judgment of me that they couldn’t see I was also as uncomfortable as they were. They witnessed me move away from him. They heard his crass commentary. What they didn’t see though, was his hand sliding up my leg, trying to get into my shorts.

While the clock marched forward toward the end of the school day, as other students talked about weekend plans, and crappy teachers, I was being fingered, against my will, by a Mormon boy. When I attempted to get the attention of the girls at my table, first by kicking my feet, and then by writing them a note, he responded with silent aggression. He even laughed at my attempts to get someone to notice.

Somehow, I managed to get out of the library. That wasn’t even enough for him. He followed me to my locker. As I opened the lock on the metal door, I could feel his breath on my neck. He continued to mock me, saying a string of disgusting words, trying to garner a reaction from me. When none of that worked, he grabbed my ass, causing me to whirl around to face him. In an instant, he moved towards me, expertly. One hand on my breast, the other into my shorts. I tried to pull away, he only became more aggressive, and soon, I was pinned to a locker, completely frozen in fear and shame.

The bell rang, dismissing classes, and as though he’d been asking me to borrow notes for a class, he removed his hands, the smirk still plastered on his face, and said, “Thank you.”

He actually thanked me.

A friend found me crumpled on the floor, my face buried in my locker, sobbing hysterically. Words must have been exchanged because eventually, we weren’t on the floor, we were walking through the hallways to the office that housed the on campus police officer. She remained with me the entire time, offering words of comfort, asking questions of the police officer. As I wrote out the report, no one second guessed me, no one assumed I was lying. Both of these people believed me. They knew I was the victim.

They were the only people that showed me such mercy and compassion.

I expected the same kindness when I told my parents about the assault. Instead I was met with skepticism: Had I encouraged him? Maybe my dating behaviors instigated his behavior? Was I just looking for attention? How would it make them look in their social circles if I pressed charges against a boy who was from a well known Mormon family? The shame they poured on me was like pouring vinegar into an open wound.

The mediation that was scheduled days later was anything but a mediation. It was a trial, and I was not the victim, according to them.

The vice principal used my history of skipping classes against me. My low grades. She said that it was “suspicious” and “hard to believe” that an honor student who participated in many extra curricular activities would do what I was “accusing” him of. I was drilled on why I didn’t yell, or leave the library quicker. Why I didn’t stop him, or  try harder, “if” he did it. His parents tore me apart the only way Mormons know how in these situations: I was sexually active (I was), and routinely dated different boys (I did).  That made me a liar, obviously. I had asked for it, and then regretted it, they explained. I knew I had done something bad, and this was my way of making myself come to terms with my sins.  They wanted to know if I understood the severity of this accusation? I could ruin all his golden opportunities; he could miss out on scholarships, he might not be able to serve a mission, what about his future jobs?

I wept, and occasionally muttered, “What about me? What about what he did?”

When the vice principal, and my perpetrator’s parents decided I wouldn’t press charges, I got up and walked out of the room. The same officer who had taken my statement, and was there explicitly for me, breathlessly ran after me in the hallway of the school.

“I believe you, Danielle. He’s lying, I can tell.  If you want to move forward with pressing charges, I’ll help you do it.”

“What’s the point?” I asked angrily.

“He’ll do it again. I’m certain he’s done it before based on the confidence he has. He knows that he’s protected. He’s got the perfect alibi- he’s a good guy on paper. This will only bolster that confidence.”

I shook my head again, “No, I can’t go through that again. He’ll destroy me.”

He nodded as disappointment and understanding overlapped on his face, “I understand. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

In the weeks after that meeting, as the rumors spread, and people whispered, “slut” or “liar at me in the halls, I had several girls come “out” and admit he’d done the same to them. There was no doubt he’d assaulted and even raped other girls before. Multiple times. All of them said the same thing when I asked them why they hadn’t reported him: “I don’t want to start anything. Who would believe me?” One girl whispered to me during our math class together, “No offense, but look at how everyone is talking about you. I don’t want that.”

You see, nail polish wouldn’t have helped me, nor would it have stopped the slut shaming I was subjected to as a result of coming forward. That’s the rape culture we’re fighting.  No  amount of sparkly nail polish can cover up the insidious nature of this beast. Perhaps if we find some nail polish that stops sexual predators from being predators we’ll finally be on to something.

Back To School Blues But Not Really, But Maybe

I think I’m in the minority of parents who are not happy when their kids go back to school. I mean, sure, I’m happy that he’s going to learn, and to socialize, and just be independent from me, but I just don’t really want him to go. It means longer, quieter days, no one bounding up to me to exclaim they just built the coolest ever fort, or randomly coming for a snuggle. Because, out of the two kids, he’s the snuggler. It also means summer is ending, and with that, the return of the inevitable sicknesses, and of course, winter with the ridiculously cold wind chill.

I miss my son when he goes to school. Soon, his sister will be following suit, starting at preschool in two weeks. I’m thanking the universe that we have a two week break between the two. If only to give my heart a slight break. This letting go stuff is the hard part of parenting.

The last two weeks have been full of babysitting (hell), squeezing in a couple extra summer activities with the family because summer isn’t really going to end, right? We’ve ridden bikes, gone to Calaway Park, seen family, gone to the World Waterpark, played dozens of games, had family movie nights, and baked together. I swear, I blinked, and summer was just gone. It was just yesterday we were planning all of the things we would do to fill our summer.

We’ve spent the last two weeks prepping for back to school. I did the shopping ahead of time this year, because last year, I sort of procrastinated. We did the clothes shopping, and the shoe shopping. We talked a lot about going back to school, something you do when you have a kid who suffers from anxiety. We talked about his new class, his new teacher, how most of his friends would be the same, and how there wouldn’t be as much “play” time this year.

The jump from Kindergarten to Grade 1 is going to prove to be a massive transition in our house, We’re going from school two or three times a week, to full time. For a house full of Not At All Morning People, it was going to be interesting. When I originally told Potato that he’d have to go to school every day, he thought I was lying.

“The other kids aren’t at school when I’m not there.” Logical, I suppose, but I told him that the kids in his class may not be there, but the big kids were there. Five days a week.

back to schoolThis morning, earlier than usual, he bounded into our room, his big brown eyes bright, and we snuggled, all four of us, as a family in our big but feeling smaller than usual bed. He got dressed without any prodding. I gave him breakfast (sorry, no fancy Pinterest breakfast here. I could pin the toast and milk he had though, if you need tips), learned he doesn’t really like Cranberry juice and quickly replaced the juice in his lunch, at his request, with just water. We talked about listening, and being nice to everyone. We discussed the fact that the “bully” from last year is still in his class, and reminded him to avoid playing with him, like he was told last year. I told him to take his time putting his shoes on (he just learned to tie his shoes) and not to rush because everyone else was. If he needed help, just ask his teacher.

We took the traditional First Day of School picture, and he was off to his first day of Grade 1. The start of his educational career, for real. Where he’ll sit in desks, and start having homework. He’ll learn to read this year, and grow into another part of the person he is and the one he’ll become. I’m happy for that.

I just wish, selfishly, that there was someway I could wrap him up, just like I did when he was a baby, and keep him close for a little longer. I know I can’t, and of course, I would never hold him back from exploring the world on his own terms, even if it makes my heartbreak and burst all at once.