My Mother’s Voice

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I last heard her voice in September, I think. My mother visited over Labor Day weekend, a visit that I really had to push for, and while she tired easily she hadn’t yet lost her voice. That came later in the Fall.

It was almost late December when my mother was diagnosed with ALS. A disease I knew nothing about. I was only vaguely aware of the ice bucket challenge before my brother pointed out the connection. I still don’t know much about ALS. But I guess I know everything there is to know. Unlike cancer or other diseases, there aren’t any medications or treatments. Or so I understand. My three siblings have done the Googling. I haven’t; I won’t. And yet, I still find it unbelievable that medically, there’s nothing to do to help my mother.

Before I moved to North Carolina, I lived in Connecticut. A former place called home where my parents had also lived at one point. Former students of hers would stop me on the street to ask about her, even in their too-cool-for-school late teens, early 20’s, “Your mother taught me to read,” they said. Can you imagine? My mother was someone who taught kids to read. Among other things, I teach adults how to help survivors of past abuse but she taught children to read.

She taught me to read.

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Future reading recommendations for my daughter from my mother.

With my mother’s voice gone, so is my tolerance for the small stuff. Apparently Pieces generally are a pretty empathetic lot but I’m done engaging with people who are over-committed or have a hard time saying “no” so keeps rescheduling or allow long lapses of time to go by without a hello. I turn down more Facebook “friend” requests than I accept. Clothes that I don’t absolutely LOVE and look good on me are headed out the door today. A fear of less or scarcity is not good enough reason to hold onto something, anything. Small talk (never my strong suit), random “likes” of Instagram photos that don’t really strike a chord with me and engagement with Twitter ignorance have all gone by the wayside. Ignorant jerk? No excuses, you’re blocked. I’m doing work that I love. And am making real changes to do only that work. I Tweet when I feel moved to, not out of a need to “be out there”.

When my energy is going toward choices or behavior that has less personal meaning, I tire more easily and have less time for what is truly important. I’d rather spend some time texting with my mother, while she can. Or holding my husband’s hand as we talk, when we haven’t seen each other all day. Not moving through the world as if busy is the new black.

Sometimes, I save voicemail messages. I have one from my grandmother who passed away two years ago and many, many from my husband. “What if I never hear this person’s voice again?” I think, superstitious to the core. (Just like my mother and her mother.) Remembering that I did this, I searched on my phone yesterday for one from my mother. We are so similar that sometimes she drove me crazy. I didn’t always save my mother’s messages. But I had one. Nothing out of the ordinary but the energy in her voice took my breathe away.

I keep playing it.

What I wouldn’t give for a birthday call today. We texted already. But boy, in a day where we all get what seems to be a million texts a day, I would give so much just to hear my mother’s voice again. The old voice, the one that I know is as familiar as my own. One more time, on my birthday.

Looking at the affects of #violence on #women and #girls

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One of the worst aspects of abuse or neglect is that even when it’s over, it’s not over.

1 in 3 women will suffer from physical, sexual violence or stalking in their lifetime. 4 out of 5 women will have children. That’s a lot of pregnant survivors and survivor moms out there. But what about the women who cannot have children, due in part perhaps to that abuse or neglect? Their lives matter too, even if those are exact numbers we don’t have.

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Penny Simkin and I in February 2015

Last summer I was certified by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus to be an educator of their landmark program, When Survivors Give Birth. (If you aren’t familiar with this landmark book, click here for a brief video featuring co-author and DONA co-founder Penny Simkin.) As someone who has worked with survivors of violence for over seven years, I’m so excited to be able to offer their program locally, here in Durham next month.

My offering of When Survivors Give Birth will be targeted to birth workers: doulas, midwives, childbirth educators. The content will expand beyond the impact of childhood sexual abuse and by including a broader look at intimate partner violence and rape.

Participants will learn about how adverse childhood experiences like abuse, even decades after the fact, can continue to haunt the survivor and what a care provider can do for a woman, even if she has not disclosed a history of abuse. We’ll discuss triggers and themes, the power of active listening and vicarious trauma. And much more! If you are a birth worker of any kind, you won’t want to miss this unique, powerful learning experience. This program is also approved for 7.5 DONA CEUs.

Join me Monday January for a free preview webinar to learn more. Or click here to register for the February 7 or February 13 sessions. Questions, let me know that too. Contact me by leaving a comment below (always anonymous) or by calling me at Outside The Mom Box office: 919 237 2370.

Intentions for 2015

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I prefer setting intentions for the New Year, not resolutions. “Resolution” sound too rigid, too laden with perfectionism to be attainable to anyone. Success for me comes with putting forth an intention, a determination to act in a certain way. An intention gives me space to try again tomorrow when I inevitably fail. I’ve come up with three  intentions for 2015. They are: Love, Write, Play.

Love. This is the most important. My husband told me around the first of the year that his priority for 2015 was our family’s happiness. This really hit home for me. The truth of busyness in cultivating a new business is convenient and true but that’s not good enough. Love for me also means not yelling. I’ve talked before about being triggered to yell by Elisabeth hurting or harassing Baci but he’s no longer with us. I’ve started reading Yell Less, Love More by Sheila McCraith creator of the Orange Rhino Challenge. Yelling isn’t my default but I do yell occasionally and I want that to stop. “Love” embodies mindfully nurturing my relationship with my husband and daughter without excuses.

IMG_0443Write.  When I’m writing, I create better work / home boundaries and more realistic goals for myself…both essential to ending overwhelm. When I’m writing, I have less time for social media. I’m reflective and slower while getting more work done, working in pulse mode as Brigid Schulte learned and later adopted in writing her own book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time.  I unsubscribe from what isn’t useful or beautiful not just in my home, but in my life. When I’m writing, I remember to let go of what isn’t serving me. I listen to my gut instinct more and respond quicker, wasting less time, because I’m less reactive to events around me. Writing always makes me better. When I’m writing, I’m a better coach and counselor because I’m there too. I wouldn’t ever ask Soraya Chemaly, Bernadette Jiwa or Stephen King where they get their ideas. I have so many, they are note-booked. What I don’t have is time blocked in my schedule on a daily basis to put them on paper. That changes this year.

Play. I haven’t yet gathered my thoughts for a review of Overwhelmed but I’m carrying a few of Shulte’s best lessons with me. One of them is Play. I thought that I did play. I go for coffee with girlfriends and sit down on the floor to construct towers of blocks with my daughter. But neither of those are play. A lot of our play as adults seems to center around eating. Did this start in college when our “socials” were intermixed with baking cookies or a run to Ben and Jerry’s? Eating, even with friends, is not play. Neither is engaging in an activity your child wants you to participate in with them. That’s life’s invisible workPlay is remembering what you love and doing it again…or discovering it for the first time. It’s about creating opportunities for your body, brain to think and move in different ways, whether that’s street hockey or painting with a group along the Eno. Soccer, scavenger hunts and capture the flag are on my agenda for 2015 as I bring in Play.

An intention also means “the healing process of a wound”. With my 2015 intentions, maybe I am healing the wound of past years and beliefs. I like the idea of it. Rebirth, not failure, is implied. A wound isn’t absolute, like chronic pain or a death sentence, it’s elastic and adaptable, ready for change. That’s exactly where I am. Right now anyway.

The Last Greyhound

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I put Baci, my almost fourteen year old greyhound, to sleep Tuesday morning. He hadn’t eaten the roast chicken that I’d prepared the day before and he was struggling to stand. When Elisabeth stood behind him after the failed breakfast and pulled on his back fur, causing tufts to come off into her hands, he hadn’t tried to get away. The end was here. Not “near” because I have no idea if his death was imminent. All I knew was his misery and that I was the only one who could do anything about it.

Greyhounds are a stoic bunch. An ancient breed who were once noted as the companions of kings and pharaohs, by the 1930’s they were being raced here in the United States. Greyhound racing continued and thrived for the next forty years before casinos started to hone in on the industry. Happily, it’s been a dying industry since the mid 1980’s. When I adopted my first greyhound in 1998, a seven year old ex-racing greyhound named JK Go Moonstruck, there were almost fifty greyhound tracks in fifteen states, including two in Connecticut where I lived. Today, there are twenty-one tracks in just seven states. The biggest culprit being (wait for it…) Florida, of course, where there are twelve tracks.

Baci 1 7.07 SSBaci, however, was not a retired racer. I adopted him at eight weeks, well into the thick of my six year greyhound adoption / advocacy madness. At the time, he made number four. Jackson, Reuben and Cleo were siblings from Mississippi living together with my ex-partner and I. A puppy wasn’t ever on my radar and after Baci, it certainly wouldn’t ever be again. But he came home with us and my life hasn’t been the same sense. Hadn’t.

Born on Valentine’s Day, Baci (a word which means “kisses” in Italian) was sweet in a doggedly fierce way. He was the most un-greyhound like greyhound I’ve ever known. Harsh words or admonishment didn’t melt him as they do with most greyhounds. He was seemingly impervious to criticism. The heartiest greyhound I’d ever had, Baci ate only a raw diet for almost ten years. He’d been vaccinated only for rabies and was never sick. Most greyhounds are described as “velcro dogs”. Not Baci. He loved people but “his” people weren’t everything to him, as they are with most greyhounds. He loved action, other dogs, adventures of all sorts. Strangers meeting Baci for the first time would remark upon his scars, “oh, the awful life of a greyhound,” they’d murmur sympathetically. But Baci’s scars came from hard play, not a hard racing life. Baci hadn’t been afraid of anything, ever. I remember him once carrying a massive, dead groundhog into the house and proudly dropping it at my feet, its neck broken. Only in the past few years had Baci stopped taking risks.

DSC01983Baci was the last of the greyhound gang that was five when I arrived here in Fall 2008, Done with a bad relationship and ready for all kinds of healthy changes. When the vet talked to me Tuesday morning about what might be going on with Baci, I didn’t listen. “I’m done, he’s done,” I said instead. I didn’t want to wake up and find him dead one morning. Or unable to stand and whimpering in pain. Then I would know that I waited too long. That it had been about me, and not him.

In a way, Baci’s death seals an old door finally shut for good. That sound is a breathing light, though, among all the loud sadness that hangs heavily. Can I speak the words, though, when asked: “we have one dog.” (My husband’s from his previous life). How can I have just one dog? It seems so few. The old skinny white dog who barked so stubbornly when I came home, but not at strangers or other dogs, isn’t here anymore.

The Things We (Women) Carry

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DeathtoStock_Creative Community8And I don’t mean diapers and Cheddar Rockets. I’m talking about your emotional baggage.

I talked to a group of pregnant women and their partners on Tuesday morning at Women’s Health Alliance in Durham about expectations and worries postpartum. Like the rest of us, most had done a really good job of taking care of the essentials before the baby arrives: getting the car seat installed, setting up a crib or co-sleeper, taking care of the responsibilities of work before we take our leave, etc. What was missing, for them, is preparation for the essentials that come after the baby arrives. Sure, we or friends have set up a meal “service” like Take Them A Meal but what about other essentials? Essentials like support from other new moms, permission to let the housework slide, time to take deep breathes, heal and be present with the emotions that we are experiencing.

Pregnant or not, as women, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we can do it all and that we should do it all. And that’s our first mistake. This impossible promise, though, is much more realistic (or feels that way) when we don’t have a child in the picture. As soon as the baby arrives, however, the gig is up. It quickly becomes clear that the social expectation of having it all/being it all/doing it all is not only unrealistic but also tightly packed with more shame, guilt and anxiety than we had ever imagined when we’d first stepped into those tight shoes. But once we’re got them on, they’re hard to just kick off.

In order to live with peace, be present with our children, sleep soundly at night, stay in good health and leave work behind when we shut down our computer, we must get rid of off these awful shoes. No matter how hard we try, they will never really fit us. And we are not the problem! They don’t fit any woman. We need to shrug off what’s not working because it’s costing us a lot. Even as I type these words, I know how hard this is for me. Unless I get the pinwheel of death, for example, I never actually shut down my computer. I’m not alone on this one. It saves me time to keep the computer on, to just open it and begin to type. Doesn’t it? And, is that short-term timesaver “enough” to balance what I’m giving up long-term?

To start casting off what’s not working, we need to look carefully at (state aloud, document, get an accountability partner, etc.) what our essentials actually are. And that’s a small, tight list! Once we know that, then we can start eliminating some of the emotional baggage of the “stuff” that we carry with us that prevents us from spending time on those essentials. There are additional costs associated with carrying emotional baggage which doesn’t serve us. Intangibles like energy, creativity, money, focus.

We will talk about some of this in Toddler Group because the baggage that we carry also affects our relationships with our toddler, our partner of course, and other important people in our lives. When you’re overwhelmed and feeling guilty, how do you think you’d deal with our impetuous toddler? Yeah, kind of like that.

What can you stop carrying?

-Originally published 12/18/14 at Outside The Mom Box

Intern Needed!

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Are you curious & interested in social justice issues as they relate to moms?

The intern will be responsible for helping the agency with four mains areas: blogging, social media marketing, community partner building, logistics. Her areas of responsibility include:

  1. 1-2 blog posts per week (approx 400-600 words) on topics determined by her interest and agency mission;
  2. Use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn) to promote agency and educate the public;
  3. Help agency build partnerships with similar goals and/or clients;
  4. Assist with on-site training logistics.

Depending on start date, intern’s schedule and interest, other projects may also come available. This is an unpaid internship but intern will receive regular, biweekly supervision meetings in which she will receive specific feedback related to her work, have the chance to ask additional questions, brainstorm projects that may be of interest to her. She will also have the option of working from home most of the time, on her own schedule.

Intern should be curious, interested in social justice issues especially as they pertain to women who are pregnant and/or have children. She should be detail-oriented and able to work independently. She should be a better than average writer. Familiarity with blogging is a plus. Ideal candidates would have taken a class or have a background in women’s studies, or at minimum, an interest in work/life balance; intersection of class and race in mothering, violence against women.

Is this you? Terrific! Check out my website so you are familiar with who I am and what I do for clients. The submit a resume, cover letter and ideally a writing sample to me (ideally something related to what I do at Outside The Mom Box and within 500-700 words) via email: outsidethemombox (at) gmail (dot) com.

Why Hope Solo *is* like Ray Rice

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I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece in The Atlantic (No, Hope Solo is not like Ray Rice) with growing apprehension. Normally, I’m a fan. In this piece, though, he’s a bit off.

I’m not in the camp of people who say that Hope Solo and Ray Rice are the “same” (ESPN’s Kay Fagan for one). And, no attacking your sister and nephew is not “the same specimen of right and wrong,”. But violence in any form should not be condoned. Period. Dunque, I do believe Hope Solo should be sidelined, as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson currently are.

Different...but the same.

Different…but the same.

Let’s acknowledge that Hope Solo gets a major pass on the violence she committed because she is a white woman. It’s white privilege alive and well. White women are never going to be as publicly condemned for any violence they commit as they might be if they were an African American male. It’s also always “worse” to knock out your wife than it is to hit your sister. Hitting your wife, the American public is slowly, slowly realizing, is wrong but hitting your sister is family stuff. It’s what siblings sometimes do. Again, it is not right but it is less publicly offensive than beating your wife.

But the real issue that I have with Coates’ article is that he seems to be grounding his argument about why Solo and Rice are different in a history of men’s violence against women. That feels like a bit specious to me. Is that history relevant in the context of looking at Ray Rice’s violence against his wife? Yes, absolutely. It not only puts his actions in better context but it also helps us understand how institutionalized violence affects everyday behavior and especially attitudes about women and race. This is crucial. But important as I believe it is for all of us to be more aware about the history of male violence against women, using men’s history of violence against women as evidence as to why Hope Solo and Ray Rice aren’t alike doesn’t wash.

It feels important here to recall that domestic violence includes family violence. Hitting your sister “counts”, intimidating your aging mother “counts”, threatening your brother “counts”, killing a family pet “counts”. Domestic violence is about power and control. Both Ray Rice and Hope Solo are likely the more powerful members of their family. When they use their power to physically or emotionally abuse someone in order to control them, that is domestic violence. (And yes, calling your nephew “too fat” can count as emotional abuse, just as hitting your sister does.) The definition of domestic violence is inclusive for many reasons not least of which is that abusers should be held accountable, regardless of how “bad” the abuse was or the gender of the abuser. And that goes for Hope Solo as well as Ray Rice.

Yes, violence against women remains a major issue but that doesn’t mean that a woman being violent isn’t. Hope Solo should be sidelined.

Note: after a useful dialogue via Twitter last night (10.1) related to his post, I thought it may be helpful to clarify something. Talking about Hope Solo in the context of domestic violence and the Ray Rice story does not diminish the issue of domestic violence is the way that the issue of rape is minimized when men jump into a dialogue about rape and say “men get raped too,”. Here’ why: we are all talking about domestic violence right now. If the conversation was about victim blaming or how abusers are sometimes abused also, then, yes, bringing Hope Solo & her alleged DV against her family would be wrong. But we are talking about it so I stand by what I said: Hope Solos should be sidelined.

Help me win $25K to help #pregnant #survivors

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Twitter_HeaderMy entry for the Wells Fargo Works contest has been accepted! In it, I share my big idea for a childbirth class specifically for survivors of intimate partner violence and/or sexual assault and my “secret mission” to train women from around the country to deliver this important program in their own community.

Now I just need views, votes and shares!!

Vote here. Today through June 30!

That won’t guarantee me winning but every little bit counts. Would you check out my proposal below and please vote and share?

One vote per entry, per day. Voting ends *June 30*.

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More than meets the eye

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natalia-vodianova-and-baby-maximMore women breastfeeding in public? Yes, please. But here’s the rub…

We really mean, certain women, don’t we?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to see a model like Natalia Vodianova Instagramming a photo of herself breastfeeding. We need more images that normalize breastfeeding and show it for what it really is: a woman feeding a baby, not a sexual act.

The real issue, though, is not all women are “welcome” to breastfeed their baby in public, let alone Instagram a photo of it. Here’s why:

We praise a woman breastfeeding her baby in public IF she is beautiful, white, thin. But anything else? A big “no”. “No” for two main reasons:

  1. The HUGE double standard that exists for women of color that doesn’t for white women, especially women of color who are mothers.
  2. A “perfect” body (like that of a model) is really the only acceptable body to “display”.

Heck, we know that Facebook and Instagram remove many, many peaceful breastfeeding photos of moms and babies ALL the time. How is Natalia Vodianova’s photo any different?

It’s not.

What is different is how much attention we pay to a single image like this when what’s truly at stake are the rights of all women to breastfeed their baby, in whatever way they choose AND share it however they choose. And that’s something we should all be focussed on.

Life’s invisible #work: #mothering

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What do you think of when I say “mothering”?

Often our mind’s eye imagines children in action. Older kids climbing a tree or running through a sprinkler. Toddlers chalking the sidewalk. Babies crawling toward a brightly colored ball. We assume that if we can see something, we can believe it to be true. But if “mothering” conjures up images of children in action, then perhaps what we “know” to be true actually isn’t true at all.

I think mothering is much more mundane than the image our mind’s eye offers. I’ve come to believe that mothering is mostly an invisible existence composed of simple, unremarkable actions that usually occur behind closed doors. Some of those actions are intentionally unobtrusive but most, I think, are not.

{Planning birthdays. Putting away groceries, toys, books, stuffed animals, games, bikes, balls, laundry. Preparing bottles. Buying new crayons and paper. Telling a dramatic story during a diaper change.}

Sometimes the work of mothering isn’t invisible…those times when we are actively engaged with our child: mom/baby yoga, pushing our daughter on the swing. But inevitably these opportunities shrink as our babies grow up. So, it would seem that we mothers are destined to categorize the bulk of what we do as invisible. Does this matter?

{Wiping…counters, the snot of our child’s nose, sticky poop, vomit. Singing a song that will (hopefully) distract. Filling a bath. Going back to the pizza place where the monkey was last seen. Unpacking backpacks.}

Darn right, it matters! And let me go a step further: the invisible work of mothering matters as a feminist issue because mothering is done primarily by women and because invisible work is often ignored, marginalized or minimized.

{Arranging doctor’s appointments. Making breakfast, lunch, dinner, popsicles. Laundering clothes, diapers, towels, blankeys, loveys, sheets. Filling a child-size Nalgene with fresh, cool water. Reading labels.}

Imagine if parenting roles were reversed. Can you imagine men doing the majority of the childcare? Take it a step further and consider if “fathering” would be mainly invisible? Not only do men take more credit than their female counterparts for the work that they do but (white) men rule the world for the most part. I imagine a world with dads engaged in “fathering” as one where they would receive a salary, benefits, tax cuts and significant social status. Obamacare would become a non-issue. Universal preschool would be standard. So, no, I don’t think “fathering” would be invisible work.

{Managing schedules. Washing grubby hands. Breastfeeding. Packing to-go containers full of healthy snacks. Visiting daycares, preschools, grammar schools, camps. Researching homeschooling.}

bell hooks tells us that feminism “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”. The invisible work of mothering is easy to ignore, exploit and oppress. But we can’t. If we do, we ignore the voices of women for whom this work is a daily way of life. And it needs to be stated again and again that the voices of mothers are as important as who benefits from their invisible work: children and families. These women’s needs – mine, yours, ours – are as much of a feminist issue as any other. Mothering must not go unnoticed even if the work is often invisible.

IMG_3990{Remembering where Crunchy was last. “Managing” toys, games, books for smoother play. Previewing TV shows. Planning snacks so boredom isn’t a factor for refusal. Reading aloud. Pumping.}

I am reminded of the poets in _The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood_ who worried whether their work would be considered “inferior” if they chose to write about mothering. They plunged ahead anyway. Can more of us can do the same? Yes. Mothers can write, talk, Tweet about our invisible work. Of course, still Facebook the smile finally caught on camera but also share the imperfect, everyday moments that make up our many hours. And let me add one more thing: could we dare to ask for help sometimes? So many societal factors conspire against our success but speaking out that we occasionally need help allows others in, while giving us the support and attention we deserve.

Mothering is exhausting and all-consuming. We mothers truly need the support of women who aren’t mothers or those whose children are grown. These women can play a powerful role in helping acknowledge a mother’s invisible work. They can support organizations like Moms Rising. Urge moms to take more credit. Offer to watch a child(ren) for an afternoon. Lead support groups. Encourage more feminists to claim this issue as one deserving attention.

{Visiting libraries and museums. Teaching right from left. Thinking before you speak. Washing fruits and veggies. Maintaining comforting routines, remembering important rituals.}

Invisibility doesn’t diminish the importance of our work as mothers. But it is up to all of us to claim it as such.

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