Stacked. My mind is stacked with questions. About everything. Every effing thing. All the time. And it is truly exhausting. It took me weeks to come up with a topic for my next post. I’ve broached some common issues on here, some controversial ones, and some heartfelt ones. I asked my husband the other day, ‘What is there left for me to write about?!’ with my brow furrowed and lips pursed in a sculptured protest of despicableness. He simply replied with his simple grin and simple eyes and perfect simple wisdom, ‘You’ll never be without topics upon which to write. Write about what moves you, what lights you up, and then you’ll have your answer.’
What moves me? What lights me up? Where is my answer? I’ve sat, I’ve prayed, I’ve meditated, I’ve walked, I’ve cried, I’ve looked up, down, around, upon, between, but the block ensued and I was left a quivering mess of ‘what ifs’ and ‘who-do-I-think-I-ams?’ and ‘what possible GOOD could I be bringing to the world?’ And like a white mountain wave issued from Poseidon himself the ideas were there, shining softly like tan leather shoes on the porch at dusk, waiting for me to pick them up. I realized how much of my childhood abuse has peppered my life and the way I organize my thoughts about my day, the choices I make within that day, the events in my life, even the way I breathe. From what I wear in the morning, to what I eat that day, to how I behave at work, to what triggers me, my brain has been hardwired, coded in neurological binary from my past ills and trials, and it will take a lifetime of software downloads to hack the system. We’re all like that. I’m not unique by a long shot. We definitely all get down on ourselves; it is part of the human condition. My struggle is not in the navigation of said thoughts, but in the rescue of my sweet personal mind from the vast gravitational funnel of them.
Paramahansa Yogananda wrote a children’s book called “Two Frogs in Trouble,” which was based on a fable legend. The gist is that two frogs fall into a bucket of milk and neither one can get out. One frog swims for a bit, gets disheartened, and drowns. The other frog refuses to give up, always looking past the pail at the glimmer of hope on the other side. He swims for days, churns the milk into butter, and walks out. Our minds are buckets of milk. Big fucking buckets of milk. We can either choose to swim and drown in the negative thoughts that hold us hostage each day, or we can choose to kick and churn that milk into butter so we can climb out of the bucket and walk to the next synapse, create a new connection, and serve our lives and those in them for the greater good of our small worlds and the world at large. I can’t say I always choose the latter. But I don’t regularly choose the former. I used to, of course. I used to let anorexia and bulimia ravage me. The crippling thoughts that ensue out of my struggle with complex PTSD from my childhood are real and vast and exhaustively terrifying. I’ve been bedridden, while seemingly managing to care for three kids, for days at a time just drowning. Sometimes (I’m proud to say they are less and less frequent) those days win too. But, more and more, I am learning how to churn the milk, how to make butter and that the process, while imperfect, is perfectly holy and brave. The life happenings that we run into during this course are brutal and beautiful. “Brutiful,” as Glennon has coined it. The process, for me, is the secret to being human. Plus, butter is so fucking good.
I saw a quote today that was stated by the brilliantly God-sent Archbishop Tutu that states: “Do YOUR little bit of GOOD where YOU ARE. It’s THOSE LITTLE BITS OF GOOD put together that OVERWHELM the world.” There it was. My topic.
We all have our own personal “little bits of good” that we do each day. Smiling at a neighbor, hugging our kids, helping a stranger, writing that paper, wishing the cashier a good day, waving a car to turn left before they should (which is totally a western Mass thing that this Los Angeles girl really had to struggle to accept!). These bits of good are to be celebrated and recognized as human truths in this world because they are not nothing. They are a collaboration of fibers that weave themselves together to become a giant great big something that will “overwhelm the world.” Overwhelming the world seems like a colossal undertaking. There is just so much, so damn much, to worry about and things to rectify and against which to fight. Most of the time, WE feel overwhelmed and helpless and aged. I feel withered when I think about it.
But this blog, for me, is a dormant volcano that erupts every few weeks with my little lava somethings that harden themselves into a monstrously hopeful obsidian chunk of good that will possibly reach a reader or two and make their day shine like lightning. A tall order indeed! I often judge myself for not being enough. We all do. But lately my response to that thought has become almost slingshot fast with a thorough reaction towards changing the synapse. You ARE enough, Steph. And you have things to offer this world.
I call the space my midnight room. It is a sizable, completely round, white stucco room (think Greece) with a couple of gazing windows carved out of the walls. In it is a huge fluffy white bed that sits upon a silverwhite long haired throw rug of sorts like some sort of majestic throne. The rest of the floor is stone, but the lighting is soft like a speakeasy at dawn. In the middle of the room is a large stone pit (like those fire pits people Pintrest into their otherwise ordinary back yards) and sometimes it is filled with water, sometimes with fire. I never know which it will be. But they do.
In the room are two people, always waiting for my visit like anxious sweethearts on Christmas Eve. They are both women (naturally). One of them is my wise self. She is stoic, doesn’t really smile or frown, but has a stern glass gaze that refuses to shatter. She is my rock, my stronghold. She has long white hair that kisses the sides of her hips which rest under her equally long white gown that laughs in asymmetric waves down to her bare feet. She holds a box. It is made of rose colored glass and gold-welded panels so it bevels and tints and twists whatever I ask her to put inside. The box doesn’t open, unless I ask her to open it and I pour in whatever dark dessert is lurking in the corners of my tepid mind. I put things in there that I don’t want to see anymore. Some things stay in there forever. Some arise again, at my beckon, where they waft in the air as if auditioning for the space to exist again. The beauty is that I get to decide that. The other lady is a high priestess, my numerical Tarot card symbol. She is dark-skinned with a long river of black hair and a badass headdress that houses a large Jade stone in the front of her forehead. She is dressed like an Amazon and always kneeling. I don’t know why. The room doesn’t have a ceiling and instead is continuously blanketed in a hue of midnight with dots of stars prancing to the music of forever. Up there are my spirit guides, all white like ghosts, poised horizontally in a circle, joined at the heads, with curiously kind eyes veering down into my room at the constant ready for my bequest. I feel like a queen here. And I am. Everyone should have a room like this. The greatest news is that everyone does.
I bring up my midnight room because here is where I go to churn the milk into butter. Here is where I have to physically and mentally take my mind when the PTSD gets loud and threatening, the memories emerge like crowded monkeys, or Ed gets brutally obnoxious.
Oh, Ed. You’re such a dick.
I’m slowly learning how to navigate the milk, which angles to twist my feet and ankles so that my kicks are productive and masterful and altogether ‘churny.’ It is a rightfully divine practice, but it’s not all shits and giggles. Down here on earth, we must attract the lessons. And today, my lesson was in the form of motherhood. I’m not going to bore everyone with some sort of palliative preface to the rest of this post that sobers the possible anger of men who can’t bear children or women who choose to be childless. I am going to speak from a place of who I am and to an audience of who I am. And that, I am a mother. Motherhood is wicked. Wicked? Yep. (shh. I’ll get back to that.) It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted. Truly. The only job I have EVER wanted. For me, it is a divine calling and a job at which I look with utmost respect of all humans.
Upon the heels of an accidental facebook discussion about how women who choose to be childless should have the same type of leave that is given to new mothers (via the massive joke that is maternity leave in the U.S.), as well as an article by Melinda Gates (read that here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/massive-hidden-cost-womens-unpaid-work-melinda-gates) that statistically analyzed, from an economist’s point of view, the sheer incredible amount of unpaid work that women (particularly mothers) do to keep this society afloat economically and sustainably, I got to thinking. Motherhood is wicked. And I mean that in the most respectful and endearing way. Angelina Jolie (a fucking BADASS mother) recently penned an op-ed for Elle magazine about how she is proud to be a “wicked woman.” Clearly, there was an unignorable promotional undertone for her Maleficent sequel, but she raised a very interesting point. Read it here: https://www.elle.com/culture/a28555952/angelina-jolie-maleficent-interview/
Rightfully so, she managed to traverse the Hollywood humdrum of interview promotion and sexual photo shoots via the industry and create a platform upon which her political voice can be heard. It’s a hell of an article. And in the end she describes ‘wicked women’ with the following:
“Looked at in this light, ‘wicked women’ are just women who are tired of injustice and abuse. Women who refuse to follow rules and codes they don’t believe are best for themselves or their families. Women who won’t give up on their voice and rights, even at the risk of death or imprisonment or rejection by their families and communities. If that is wickedness, then the world needs more wicked women.”
Back to motherhood being wicked (now you’re with me): Today was one of those days all we mothers have. The scene of a tiny cape house in the woods with no air conditioning on a 90 degree day juxtaposed to the arrival of a family the night before who has just vacationed for a week in vast open mountains which gobbled up their souls and spit them back out again with a renewed sense of wonder and awe about whatever makes the world up, is glaring in my recent memory. Today that house saw overtired kids who had become accustomed to surviving on 6 am tv programs which afforded their bewildered parents some much needed vacation sleep, as they (the kids, not the adults, er well…) slowly blended into the background of their habituated lifestyles of summer. It sucked. Morning whines for cups of milk that inevitably spilled and this show or that show and “I don’t want to pick up the legos!” and “she punched me in the chest!” and “I hate the orange chicken from Trader Joes (that just last week I proclaimed would be the only food I’d ever eat for the rest of my life)!” coupled with a mountain of laundry on the couch that had been left shamelessly unfolded (and regretfully, I might add) before departure from said vacation all conspired to torture me from the inside out. I of course lost it on the kids. I lost it. Try yourself in the scene and if you think you wouldn’t lose it, I’ll come over and kiss your feet right now. I had not prepared for our return. I left the house a mess (which I will NEVER do before a vacation again) and we had no food in the fridge or pantry save for some tuna and uncooked rice. We were tired, hungry, sunned out, and bored. I flipped out so bad in a screaming sweaty fury that I temporarily thought about selling the house because surely the neighbors could hear through these old windows, and surely I must be the only mother who yells, and surely my kids are the least behaved, and surely nobody has a 10 year old with this much sass, and surely the middle one spilled her milk AGAIN and cried about it! And then I remembered the things. The maternity leave, the unpaid work, the wickedness, all of those naughty truths that provoked in me a sense of, well, kind of an angry pride. It’s hard fucking work to be a mother and yet the putting truth and substance to the hardness of that work is the biggest taboo subject on the planet. I am constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the game–did I reply to the email about class parents, when can I head to the store without the kids to pick up school supplies, did I schedule their checkups yet, remind Jack to get tested for Lyme, what’s for dinner tonight, when am I reading the lesson at church, when do the kids acolyte, how much food do I need for the next few days, what kind of money is in the account which dictates the chosen visit to Aldi or Trader Joes, should we get the dryer fixed or just buy a new one, when is tax free weekend-did we miss it?, I need to remember to take a tour of quickbooks online to streamline my business, taxes should be easier, what is my NPI, do I have an NPI, is that the same as a tax ID number, which one of Andy’s emails should I respond to first, is that a bite or poison ivy, do we need detergent, when can I get a hair cut, clean out the gutters, pump the septic tank, dispose of that rotted wood, I have to carve some time to write a page or two from my book today, when do I exercise, can I lift today, do I have any patients scheduled, what is that in your hair?!, can you please stop scratching your sister or at least scratch somewhere that the scars won’t be visible?, you don’t like bananas anymore?, where is the map?, I put the laundry THERE not there, just leave it HERE because I’m still working on it, what size are your shoes?, that mudroom needs some serious organization, I want to schedule my CEUs for the month of October, look into that conference in CA, get the Christmas cards done, get CHRISTMAS done, manage the birthday party, did they get their checkups????!!!!! That is about a minute of thoughts. Maybe 90 seconds. And I haven’t even gotten to the kids yet.
Today, I championed the goal to be one step ahead of them too. A reminder that the house was still a mess. Priorities strike one by one and they load themselves into a little mental hierarchy that kind of needs to be adhered to lest one sacrifice their sanity. Girl, 10, ridiculed me for something, the outcome for which I had not been prepared. Girl, 8, cried the whole fucking day. And girl, 5, literally walked around and dumped things out of other things. It was wretched. After I lost it, I shook on the couch crying for a good 20 minutes while writing husband an email because both cell and land phones were mysteriously not working, while 10 and 5 ran away and 8 just walked around humming a song asking, while veering, void of all emotion, through the curtains of my big fat mother tears, “Sooooo, does this mean we aren’t going to the pool today?” Husband left work early for the family emergency which really was just another day in the life; I had just happened to give him a peek into the window. He had no judgement, no shaming, nothing. He is like that. Stoic and rocky like Moses, yet soft and giggly like Bullwinkle. He was scared. And so was I. I knew I had to do it. I had to go into the midnight room. I had to churn the milk.
I begun to worry that I was a bad mother, that I wasn’t cut out for this, that I was failing, that I was giving my kids LOTS of subjects for their future adult therapy sessions. We all do that. Until we stop. Until we turn around, create the synapse and take that new (albeit rocky at first) road instead. Today, I let myself rest in the fact that mothers are enmeshed in a world of never being enough because our society makes it so that the measuring tape just keeps growing. We cannot keep up with the demands. It’s fucking hard work. And some days we break. Add social media to that and I don’t have to tell you what that can do to a woman. When we are done mothering our babies, we mother our partners, and then we mother our friends, and sometimes we forget to mother the most important humans on the planet during said mothering–ourselves. We create these massive lists in our heads, or on paper, or on our iphones, or in our computers, or on the wall, or with our blood on the walls, that never complete themselves because they are built on giant mountains of expectations which are intimately tied to our self esteem and senses of self worth. I have a bachelors degree and a masters and some days I still feel like a fraud. But I also kindly, willingly, and heroically, keep three tiny humans alive. I give them food, clothes, shelter, overflowing hugs, laughs, and wisdom. And that shit is a TON of work. Kids are like tiny CEOs of the household. If you have more than one, they don’t really organize themselves into a corporate ladder per se but, rather, they snowball together into one huge intimidating dictator who can leave any parent weak in the knees. They walk around destroying nearly everything you own with snot on their upper lips and sugar on their cheeks as they smile and fart in passing through the living room that is constantly pelted with piles of laundry and crushed cheerios. They are tyrannical and delicious and ferocious and hilarious and truly quite a spectacle to see before your eyes. And they are just hard work. The way our society views mothers and the work that we do (most of which is unseen and, therefore, unacknowledged) is born of deep and damaging radical feminism that will take generations from which to heal.
But we know things. We work each day to churn the butter. We human incredibly well. And we do it all without being recognized. We don’t need to be. We hold up the world. We’re fucking Atlas. As mentioned earlier, we often forget to mother ourselves in the process, most likely because we belittle the work we do so much that (even when we feel like we have had the hardest day) we are conditioned to down play it into some sordid sea of guilt about “well, I really should put the kids to bed instead of going to the gym.” And so it goes. But when we do this, when we forget to mother ourselves, we forget to mother the planet and all sorts of things can take place in the wake. I’ve struggled with Washington. I mean, really struggled. I still do. I don’t even know what to say anymore because I can’t seem to adequately pick my jaw up off the floor and parse any coherent words together. I get overwhelmed. I start to drown in the milk. Then I try to mother my kids among all that shit, drowning in the milk, and I simply can’t. I have a friend who has run every single day since Trump took office. Not as a protest, to be sure, but because running gives her a sense of being able to actually make it through each day which is now peppered with all kinds of alarming headlines. She has two daughters who she mothers brilliantly and she is also a strong smart mind. She runs to mother herself so she can mother her kids and so that her mothering can spill into the good of the the fabric that will come together to overwhelm the world. I can’t practically steal away from my life and march on Washington in protest. I don’t really want to stand on a street corner with a sign in my home town. That is not me. But I can do little bits of good where I AM. And right now, I am in the thick of one of the most important jobs on the planet. Raising my kids up to be good humans is my bit (quite a huge one!) of good. It is my job to ensure that they are inquisitive and fascinated and hard working and inspired and just GOOD people. I want them to get loud when they need to and soften when they don’t. I want them to be wicked. And THAT, my friends, is really my life’s work.
So I’m sure I’ll have many more days like today where exhaustion and overwhelm get the best of me. But my eye is on the long game. I intend to fight the fight by doing what makes me feel good each day so that I can show up for the world. Whether you are a mother or not, you have the choice to mother others. The world needs nurture in our plastic two dimensional screentime societies and that work, the work of nurture, is neverending. Go out and do it. Nurture yourself, your plants, your cats, your car, that tree, the sidewalk, your job, the sea, your lunch. See what happens when you choose to churn the milk into butter. Discover what is on the other side of the bucket. And meet me out there with a slick high five so that we can rise up and dance.