I’m not a problem to be solved
The pieces of my puzzle aren’t for you to try and fit
To figure out to make a picture that you like
-Don’t tell me what goes where and what comes next-
I will find my own way.
It will be different from your way
-different not bad not wrong-
I’m comfortable here
In this space where I am this person I am
In spite of the questions, the doubts and the fears.
Don’t tell me to move, it’s the wrong place to be
Spare me your worried brow your heavy sighs
Your muttered prayers.
You can’t see what I see in my head in my heart
Don’t hear what I think when I lie in the dark.
You’ll never be me never know what it’s like
I’m not in a bad place I don’t need a rescue.
I’m swimming and seeking and keeping my head up
My north star is mine its not yours it will guide me.
I may end up somewhere you would never have guessed
So just leave me be let me go save your breath.
I don’t need your books or your words or your help
I’m finding my way in spite of myself.
*Um, so I haven’t written a poem since probably like high school. I’m in the midst of a really frustrating week with a person in my life and this just kind of came out. It may be total crap so I apologize in advance.
It’s a crisp, chilly evening in early November 1990. My friends and I are walking back to the dorms from dinner, crunching through the leaves that have fallen on the path ahead of us. I’m hanging behind the rest, and look up at the dark, starry sky and sigh. My friend Mike hears me and pauses to wait for me. We walk together the rest of the way, not saying anything but when we get to his dorm he says, “Hey, wait here. I have something for you.” I wait out in the cold, hands in my pockets, probably not wearing a warm enough coat. Mike comes out and hands me a cassette. “You seem like you need this. It always makes me feel better, why don’t you borrow it for a while?”
In my hand was the tape “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” by the Sundays. I’d heard the single “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on the alternative radio station back home and liked it, but had never listened to the whole thing. I had no idea at that moment that 24 years later (whoa) I would still remember that fall so clearly, and it would still be able to conjure up how I was feeling and the effects the music would have on me.
Mike was right. That music did make me feel better. I don’t know what it was-her voice, the music, the lyrics, or all of that put together but it soothed something in me and just made me feel like everything was going to be ok. It was a particularly angsty time for me…although, who am I kidding, most of my life has been angst-ridden. I was thrilled to be at college, loved my new group of friends, but also missed my old friends from home. I was 8 hours away with no car (and no cell phones, no internet) so I relied on infrequent pay-phone conversations to connect me with my best friend. I was now 100% responsible for my studying and learning and classwork. I had to do my own laundry and clean my own room and navigate getting along with a sometimes prickly roommate. I visited New York City for the first time. Stayed out all night. Got drunk for the first time. Kissed a boy who I had a huge crush on–more than once–even though I knew he had a girlfriend. I was happy, sad, confused, excited. Tired. Always seemed to be very tired. The Sundays were like a balm that eased my over-stimulated heart and mind.
At the same time, I was introduce to Orion. The Hunter. 2 summers before, I’d learned what real star-gazing was like, when I spent many nights drifting on my best friends boat in the broads of Lake Winnepesaukee in the middle of the night. I’d seen my first of many shooting stars and satellites, saw the sweep of the Milky Way over our minute selves as we rocked on dark waves. Of course I knew where Orion the constellation was. But that fall of my freshman year, he became another beacon of hope for me in an uncertain world, that would follow me through adulthood.
Another friend-another Mike actually, and the infamous kissing boy-and I would go on long drives in the evenings where we’d “get lost” and just see where we ended up. I would spend a lot of time in college with various friends and boyfriends on sojourns to lonely places to philosophize…this was just the beginning. He’d drive–as a junior, he had his own car–and I would say “Left!” or “Right!” as the spirit moved me. We’d talk about god only knows what, and one night he pointed out Orion to me. I’d probably been upset about something. (I also remember “upset” being a somewhat steady state of mind at the time. Or rather, for years before, during and after this. I have a lot of feelings about things, apparently.) Trying to make me feel better (and not kiss me because, you know, girlfriend) he pointed to Orion and said “Everytime you see Orion, you can know that everything’s going to be alright in the world.” How trite! How stupid! How sentimental! How exactly what I needed to hear! I grabbed onto that and from that moment on, every time I see Orion, something in my soul makes a little, nearly audible “click,” righting me for at least a moment. Ok. Orion. There he is. Everything’s alright with the world.
God, how naive I was. Still am. I still feel that way when I see Orion. When I hear certain songs. When I see certain scenery or read a particular book or poem. Who thinks like that? Well, I guess I do. And I think I’m not alone. Maybe it’s not Orion or the Sundays, but I bet you have your North Stars too, the things that re-calibrate your internal self.
I think about these two stories this same time every year, and remember that happy/sad girl, that confused dreamer, because really, she’s still me, she’s still there. I may be older, wiser (?), more responsible (?), less flighty. But her heart is still in me, believing that if I can just see Orion, or hear just the right song, then it’s all going to be ok.
I’m sure you remember the #yesallwomen Twitter campaign of last spring, where in the wake of the Isla Vista, California killing spree, women posted their experiences with misogyny, violence, harassment and discrimination. At the time, I couldn’t think of a specific story or event in my own life that was worth sharing, although I absolutely remembered that feeling, especially in my teens and twenties, of discomfort tinged with fear that came as the result of unwanted attention from a male. I just couldn’t pinpoint a particular experience that stuck out in my memory.
A few months go by. Here I am in my 40’s. Much more confident in myself than I was back then, although still hesitant to speak up on my own behalf. I was always a “good girl”, who generally liked to please the adults in my life and, more than anything, not raise a big fuss. Today I’m more likely to raise a big fuss–but mostly in my head. When it comes to actual confrontation I’m still a big wuss.
I work at a library. I love it. So much of my job fits my personality and skill set. It’s a mile from my house and across the street from my kids’ schools. My hours are flexible and work nicely with my kids’ schedule. The women (and couple of men) I work with are friendly and kind. And I’m surrounded by books all day, which for me is pretty much heaven.
I’d been working there for a few months when I started training on the front desk. I was working one afternoon when this man who is at the library every day came up to the desk to buy a book from the book sale. (There are a lot of older folks who congregate at the library regularly. They sit by the newspapers and chat–loudly–about the world in general and their (usually negative) opinion of the way things are.) This gentleman is probably in his early 60’s and spends many hours sitting in the library, occasionally reading the paper or going on the computer, socializing with other old folks, and staring at people, staring at women, while they walk by. He always places himself where he has a good vantage point so he can see everyone who passes by.
I ring up his ten cent book and tell him to have a nice afternoon. He leans in close and reads my name tag: “Your hair looks very nice today Jennifer. You’re very smartly dressed.” Flustered I say “Um, thank you?” and he goes on his way. The woman training me, also in her 60’s smacks me on the arm like my teenage friend “Oh my god. He likes you. You’ve got to watch out for him. He latches on to the young, new staff all the time. He’s creepy!” (I don’t know that I qualify as “young,” but I guess comparatively…) I’d already figured out the creepiness. In fact, I’d actually seen him at the Walmart a few days before. I was going down one of the aisles and looked up to see him standing at the far end, just watching me. I recognized him as “That Guy That’s Always At The Library” and was immediately uncomfortable by the way he just stood there, staring. I turned my cart around and went the opposite direction.
For my next few shifts he wasn’t in the library when I was working. Then one Friday, I’m pushing my cart of books past him and hear him make a comment about me…softly, but just loud enough that I could hear him. Did I just imagine that? I felt sick to my stomach and yet pushed on and completed the task I was working on. Because of where he likes to sit, I had no other choice but to walk past him on my way back to the staff area. I braced myself and sure enough, as I walked by him again, he muttered the same “compliment.” I was shaking when I went back behind the desk. I tried to find things to do that kept me out of the main library area. I had a silent battle with myself in my head, thinking all of those things that so many women think when they are victims of harassment:
“Did I just imagine that? Did that really happen?”
“Am I making too big a deal over this? He didn’t really say anything bad.”
“What am I wearing, is this too ‘revealing’?” (Incidentally I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.)
“I need to just tell him to shut the hell up and leave me alone! I need to stand up for myself. I’m a feminist, damnit!”
Eventually I had to go back out there to shelve some books. As I did, he got up from where he was sitting and came around the corner where he could see me and stood there, just watching. I stopped what I was doing and went in the back and found my co-worker (who had warned me about him) and told her what was going on. She immediately went to talk to the supervisor on duty for the day. My colleagues jumped into action and were very helpful. They intended to confront him but by the time they went out to find him, he’d gone for the day. (He does that, he just appears and disappears suddenly. It’s very weird.)
The comments happened once more when I was working another day…this time I didn’t hear them but another one of my co-workers did and reported it back to the supervisor. She and the branch manager were able to confront him that day. Predictably, he denied it. He said that person was lying. He asked to know who was making these claims against him (obviously they didn’t tell him). Other women I work with talked about things they’d heard him say to them and other women. They threatened to kick him out of the library if the behavior continued. Since then, there hasn’t been a problem and I’ve been able to go about my business and not be bothered. He still creeps me out and I do my best to avoid him, but I don’t feel as anxious about it anymore.
The thing that really got me was how paralyzed I felt by all those questions running around in my head, all the ways society had told me to keep quiet, to not rock the boat, to just accept the “boys will be boys” mentality, to wonder whether any of it was my fault. And this was just a few comments and staring! Imagine how debilitating actually getting touched inappropriately, or assaulted or raped or stalked would be! If I felt this way about such a “minor” incident, it’s no wonder that all those violent acts get unreported. We have been conditioned to accept the blame and shut up.
I thought back to a job I had a couple years ago. I worked in a restaurant with mostly 20-something young guys. They were crude and vulgar and talked about sex a LOT. They were flirty and inappropriate. For some reason, it didn’t bother me. Maybe some of it was my ego…having just turned 40 it was maybe flattering to have admiring comments come my way. Maybe some of it was they were young and cute (not old and creepy). Maybe part of it was I knew that if I told them to shut the heck up that I knew they would. Maybe I just knew them better and trusted them because we had some sort of a work relationship…I have no idea. But it was like a lightbulb went off–that was the whole POINT. Their attention didn’t bother me. It doesn’t matter why or why not. It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Creepy library guy did. And THAT was what mattered. Even if it wouldn’t bother anyone else, if it bothered me and made me feel bad, then it needed to STOP. Period. We need to stop blaming women, stop telling them how to feel, to suck it up and get over it, to just deal. Even if it makes no sense to us, if a woman feels threatened or uncomfortable or unsafe or objectified, we need to listen, pay attention and make. that. behavior. stop. My co-workers did a great job of making me feel heard, supported and protected. We need to do that for all women, in every situation where it is warranted.
I was able to use this situation to have a serious talk with my girls about unwanted attention from men. I could tell the 9 year old was kind of confused (she knows nothing about sex) and the 12 year old was very uncomfortable. She is well aware of the fact that when it comes to sex there’s a lot of grey area…I don’t want her to fear male attention, I don’t want her to avoid it. I just want her to know that if it is unwanted? If it makes you uncomfortable in ANY way? It needs to stop. It needs to be told to someone. My fear is that she’s even more shy than I ever was, and much more of a people pleaser. I pray that I can make her a strong woman who can stand up for herself when she needs to but it is a hard thing to do.
This morning when she left the house for school, the trash guys were arriving. As she walked down the street with her friend I was standing at the window watching them head for the bus stop. I watched the trash guy look after her once. Twice. Three times. I have no idea what he was thinking but I know this. She’s almost 13. She is young. She is cute, much cuter than I ever was at that age. And men and boys are going to look at her inappropriately. And say things to her. And make her feel uncomfortable. Because yes. All women. Even women who aren’t really old enough to be women yet.
Where does it end? Thankfully we can look at the world today and see the amazing strides women have made over the last 100 years in battling misogyny and discrimination and harassment and violence. But there is much work to be done. We need to teach our sons to respect women. To give them appropriate attention and admiration. To not objectify them. We need to teach our girls to be strong and protect themselves. To stand up for themselves and seek support from the men and women who care about them when they need it. To not blame themselves for someone else’s behavior. To shut down those voices in their heads that make them question their worth, their value, their own intelligence and their intuition. So that maybe one day “#yesallwomen” will be just an interesting footnote in our history.
*one of my favorite resources for empowering my girls is amightygirl.com. it has great resources for all ages of girls…and boys too!
Dear Matt Lauer and Today Show staff,
Against my better judgment, I watched part of your segment this morning on the so-called “No Rescue” parenting trend. I was frustrated with it for a number of reasons.
First of all, I don’t know who came up with the title “No Rescue” for this style of parenting, but it seems totally extreme and inappropriate. From what I gathered, these are parents who allow their children to experience the natural consequences of say, leaving your homework in your locker or your soccer cleats at home. “No Rescue” implies that if their child were about to get hit by a car these parents would cheerfully stand by, knowing that little Suzie would get a great life lesson out of their time in the hospital. “Next time honey, I guess you won’t be riding your bike in the middle of the road! What’s that? You’re in pain? Well, get your own morphine! No rescuing from me!” Parents like this would rightfully be getting a call from DFS. As far as I could tell, this is not the tactic that supposed “no rescue” parents are taking.
Secondly, while you may not have coined the term “no rescue” yourselves, you did choose to put the tagline that ran something along the lines of “these are parents who allow their children to fend for themselves.” This description again conjures up an image of parents throwing their children to the wolves, setting them out in the woods or on the street to, as you say, “fend for themselves.” Which also does not seem to be the case for this type of parenting style.
There are probably as many ways to parent as there are people. You would have us believe that we are all divided into a handful of categories, from Tiger Mom to Helicopter Parent, and in doing so create a manufactured controversy about which is the best way to raise our children. It is hard enough to parent, to not question your choices and decisions, without the Today Show and other media outlets trying to force us to choose, to pit us against our friends and neighbors, to rain down judgment on us for choosing this or that way to raise our kids.
For example, you describe a Tiger Mom as one who is strict and sets high standards. Well, my husband and I definitely are strict, and yes, we do set high standards for our kids. But I have actually read Amy Chua’s book, and while I found a lot of her parenting style did resonate with me, much of it did not. So I wouldn’t say I’m entirely a “Tiger Mom”. A “snowplow parent” apparently wants to get all the obstacles out of their child’s way, so they have no difficulties. I would say there’s a little bit of that in every parent who loves their child. We all know what Helicopter parents are like, and again, I think that there’s a little bit of that in all of us, as we worry about the world we send our kids out into every day. And then of course now the “no rescue” parent, who, gasp, might not rush over to school with their kids’ forgotten flute or horror, not drop dinner making to run over to the school to get a forgotten math assignment. This is really a thing? Why is this a thing? Why is this a thing worth talking about??? Who there is deciding that we need to have an entire segment on parenting to create yet another way for us to feel bad about ourselves and criticize ourselves and, in turn, criticize and judge those around us?
It’s like the media wants everyone to be pitted against one another. I guess “Everyone in this town gets along really well!” isn’t a very compelling news story, but “Wow, all these people are SO DIFFERENT in the way they parent!” is? When did “live and let live” go by the wayside?
Now, I’m not saying that everything is entirely relative when it comes to parenting. I do believe there are certain pretty black and white issues that are right and wrong when it comes to how you raise your kids. (Starving, beating, ignoring, abusing…yeah, all bad.) But most of those “black and whites” are at the far ends of the parenting spectrum, and everything else is pretty gray in the middle there. At the end of the day, the majority of parents love their kids. And they do what they do out of love for their kids. And we are all just trying our best to get through the day without hurting anyone and losing our ever-loving minds. All of which is hard enough without some morning talk-show segment that emphasizes our differences and makes people feel like “YOU’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG!”
I’m pretty sure most of us feel like that all the time anyway. So why don’t you do a piece on something more positive and encouraging and people-bringing-together instead of continuing to drive us all apart?
Tiger-Snowplow-No Rescue Mom,
It’s the same old story. You’re a little late, the buzz of hundreds of conversations reaching you as you walk down the hall, before you even get in there. You walk in to the cafeteria…of course you forgot your glasses again so you can’t see where everyone is. You lean casually against the wall, hoping that no one will notice you before you get your bearings. Scanning the crowd for a familiar face, you finally see your friend at a table across the room and breathe a sigh of relief. You feel so much less conspicuous as you slide in next to her at the table.
Sound familiar? If you think I’m talking about high school you’re wrong. I’m actually talking about going to some parent event at the elementary school. One thing I’ve learned this far in life–high school never really goes away.
I don’t know about you, but I walk into every school function with a major chip on my shoulder. I peg people for who they probably were in high school…it’s actually pretty easy to figure out. Who the cool people were, the nerds, the quiet ones, the stoners, the smart kids, the nice ones who everyone liked…I don’t think our roles change that much as parents. I think we slide right into the same roles we filled when we were kids. The cliques we fell into are still alive and wel. It’s hard to reinvent yourself. My college roommate was hell bent on being a totally different person in college and failed miserably. I have grown and changed for sure of course-thank God. But in so many ways I’m still that same person…perched on the edge of not-quite-popular and still looking for my big break. I don’t care as much about how I look…I have no problem showing up to things in my big fleecy pants and Wyoming Soccer sweatshirt. Still, it disgusts me though how much I still care about being one of the “cool kids.” I hate how I sort everyone out into their assigned roles, myself included.
I’m not sure how to just quit doing it though. I try to just go about my business and I enjoy my life and my family and kids tremendously. Put me in a room full of other moms though…I’m nice on the outside but you do not want to hear my inner dialogue. Critical, judgmental, sarcastic, snarky, you name it. It ain’t pretty.
I don’t know what you imagine adulthood is going to be like when you’re a kid. You just see the grownups going about their business, orbiting around the universe that is You. You don’t really care who their friends are or what they think about the other grown ups, I don’t think that even occurs to you, that your parents might have the same peer power struggles that you do.
People might think I’m crazy or that I’m insecure or making it up, but I don’t think it’s all in my head. There’s plenty of one-uppmanship to go around, comparing your kid to others, backhanded compliments about someone else’s kid, gossip, rumor spreading…I mean, if you haven’t experienced this to some degree I don’t know where you’ve been hiding (or you’re one of those super nice people, that rare person that’s friends with everyone and always mangages to rise above the fray.). Really this is all just a slightly elevated level of high school drama. We just all have better jobs and drive bigger cars. We’re still trying to impress, trying to be important. Trying to find some way, one way, ANY way to be just a little bit better than someone else. It’s how we fill that blank, bleak hole sitting in the very pit of ourselves, how we shut up that voice that tells us we’ll never be good enough. And I think really, we all feel like we’ll never be good enough, even the most cool and popular among us. Some people are just better at pretending otherwise.
The thing is…I don’t think that voice is as loud as it used to be, that hole seems not so hollow. So maybe I am growing up some. Maybe it’s just I’m in the middle on some continuum of “Importance of What Other People Think” which means there has to be an end somewhere, right? Perhaps at some point I’ll be able to just let go completely and just be.
I really, really love the song “Secrets” by Mary Lambert. It’s so freeing and such a powerful message…”I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are…” And I don’t care so much, really. But I do still want people to like me. I wonder if that feeling ever totally goes away.
It is time for small boys to go to bed. And none too soon for this one, who loves bedtime. We’re at a movie, out doing something fun and “I just want to go to BED” gets moaned with slumping shoulders. I imagine him as a teen, sleeping til noon on a Sunday morning, the specter of who he will someday be lurking just behind him.
We head for his room, where he grabs all 5 of his special stuffed friends, his arms just barely encircling them. Climb into the cozy flannel sheets I put on a bit too early-“Was your bed nice and warm last night? I put on your flannel sheets.” “Yes, but maybe a little TOO warm…” says the sweaty sleeper. Always sweaty, hair damp and tousled, arms flung wide and head at an impossibly cockeyed angle. Fall is arriving in fits and starts as usual.
I lie down next to him, snuggling being one of his top activities, dad and I having tied in the “World’s Best Snuggler” category (although I daresay he is the best). I put my arm around his fuzzy back-he loves his feeties, sweaty or not-he is lying at a funny angle because his flu shot arm hurts and he doesn’t want to lie on it. The flu shot brought tears and an Oreo Coolatta from Dunkins, since I am a sucker for this one. He hugs Boonga, the favorite stuffed friend, extra tight and says “I wish Boonga was real”, reminding me of the Velveteen Rabbit. Boonga is still the most important friend, the one who sits on the stairs waiting for him to come home. He’s as real as a stuffed animal can get. I let him hug Boonga for his portrait this year, which got a raised eyebrow from Dad, but I know that it won’t be long before he is getting dusty on the dresser, Toy Story playing out for real in just a few short years.
I lie there with him and smell his “boy” smell…one of my favorite quotes is from “Incendiary” by Chris Cleave, where the protagonist describes the smell of her boy as a “cross between angel and tiger.” I have never smelled either but can’t imagine a more perfect description of how my boy smells. The last of his Old Spice shower gel (used for the benefit of “the girls”) still lingering on his head. He flings his arm across my back and his tiny fingers feel like when they were a baby, grabbing on to the lifeline of Mom. We talk about his day, and when I ask him what the best part of his day was he says “Seeing you when I came out of school” and it does not feel like the world’s most obvious pick-up line. He smiles sleepily at me and leans over for a kiss.
I watch him as sleep takes over, as his eyes stop popping open to see if I’m still watching him, as his breathing slows and his arm gets heavy and slides off me. I see this boy, who knows the whole Bastille album, and always has his nose in a book. Who is afraid to ride his bike but not to sing “Hard Knock Life” for Annie auditions. With his skinny, knobby legs and tiny teeth that refuse to loosen even a little bit. His skipping around on the soccer field and sometimes powerful shot on goal (when he feels so inclined). The way he loves his sisters and how they look out for him. Someday there won’t be any room for me on this little bed, when he fills the hollow made by his teenage dad, sprawling out across a too-small twin bed. So I get in all the snuggles that I can, with this boy and his eyelashes like spiders’ legs, my own little angel/tiger.
One of my goals this summer is to have Xavier learn how to ride his bike without training wheels. It’s not going so well. He doesn’t love riding his bike period, I have to cajole him to get out there and ride around the neighborhood. Then he typically makes a big deal about it and rides around like a little old man, tooling around at 2 mph and braking every second. God help us if he falls over at all, even if he doesn’t actually hurt himself it’s like I just threw him off the Empire State Building. (One of his favorite phrases when he gets hurt is “You made me get hurt!” Mmmhmm. Ok kid. Keep working on the blame-shifting.) I’m finding it extremely frustrating and part of me just wants to give up.
Sometimes I find myself judging my own kids…they’re not as smart as I’d like or as kind as I want, they’re not athletic or outgoing or daring or…whatever. I look at them and wish they’d just be different in that one (or two, or ten) area. I find myself comparing them to other kids, to myself when I was a kid, to Bill as a kid. Then I feel awful–Why can’t I just let them be who they are? Why do I want them to change? Julia is kind of shy and loves clothes and fashion and hates reading and doesn’t really like school and hates anything where you have to work hard. But she is sweet and loving and wants to please people and is silly and loves to laugh. Kendall can be sneaky and mean and pouty and has a terrible martyr complex and hates math and wants to read all the time and play Minecraft and doesn’t have much athleticism. But she is compassionate and thoughtful and always makes you feel special and loves to sing and act and is incredibly creative. Xavier is into math and science and Pokemon and Minecraft and plays sports whether he wants to or not and is semi-athletic and quiet and kind of nerdy…but he is a snuggler and a lover and super smart and very creative. None of those things are bad things!! Why do I want them to be something, someone different?
At the same time though, I don’t want them to just settle and get in some sort of rut, some sort of assigned “This Is Who I Am and I Won’t Change” mode. I want to encourage them to try new things, to push themselves, to see a different perspective. To be brave and adventurous, to not miss out on all the amazing things the world has to offer by settling into some small, comfy box that I never try to push them out of occasionally. I want them to have all the things I never had, to try all the things I never tried, to really LIVE life and experience everything the world has to offer and to not be settled into themselves at the ages of 12, 9 and 7.
So how do you balance these things? How do I keep from getting frustrated when they aren’t who I want them to be, but still push them to be more than they are? Where is that line and how do you straddle it without going over into one extreme or the other?
Just one more parenting dilemma to try and figure out I suppose. In the meantime, watch out for me hanging onto a small boy on an orange bike, huffing and puffing as he peddles around trying to balance on his bike.