Am I A Woman?

Yesterday, I had an appointment with a new client. I was putting highlights in her hair and asking her if she had kids, to which she replied that she had three children, ages 7, 5 and 3. I told her she was right in the thick of it, raising young kids, busy with care taking and kids’ schedules. Thank God that wasn’t me and on and on. She agreed and then asked me if I had kids. I told her yes, I have three kids too, but they are 15, 18 and 23. All sophomores… one in high school, one in college and one in the second year of law school. Yes, I do know that he is not considered a sophomore. I just say that because it’s easy for people to understand.

Then she asks, is your 23 year old married? I laughed and kind of shocked, said, NO. A few seconds went by and I was sitting there quietly when then it hit me. I scoffed at her question as if it weren’t possible, but my oldest kid COULD be married. Sh*t. Where has time gone? He was just a baby. I was just a baby, wasn’t I? How is it possible that he would be of an age where he could, actually marry someone. I could be a <gasp> mother-in-law.

I read a book several years ago called The Pull of the Moon. In it, a woman drives across the country in search of herself, a person she’s lost along the way of being married and being a mother. She keeps a journal and writes some really raw, honest things down. The kinds of things, as a wife, mother and woman, that we might think, but would never dream to have the freedom or courage to say. The kinds of things that you couldn’t take back once they slip out of your mouth. The kinds of things that might damage a fragile male ego to the point of disrepair, that your marriage would never be the same, or it would simply come to an end. Raw, honest, powerful, rich. It was a great book, although I think if I re-read it now, at this point in my life, it would resonate more deeply because there are just some things that happen slowly, over time as you live life as a woman, a mom and as a wife.

At one point, she referred to herself as a ‘woman’ and all that that means, and this has stayed with me. Woman. At what point do you become a woman? An adult? That’s easy. 18. But you hear that your whole life up until that moment. At 18 you’ll be an adult. You’ll be able to vote, you can move out, you can make your own decisions, and on and on.

There was never a conversation that I had with anyone about when I would become a woman, so I feel like I’m still waiting.

At the time when I first read Elizabeth Berg’s book, I had two young children. I thought, well, AM I a woman? I have kids and a husband. But I didn’t feel like a woman. When I thought about people that were women, I just couldn’t put myself at the same level as them. Womanhood was not about age or about having kids or a spouse.  In my head, It was more intangible than that. There was some level of maturity and sophistication involved. Something I couldn’t name, necessarily, but something I didn’t have.

I’ve revisited the question many times over the years. Am I a woman NOW? Does (fill in the blank with a life event) make me a woman?

Now, at 42, I’ve done all the grown up things. I’ve been married more than half my life, I’ve got three kids, a house, cars and pets. I’ve raised my kids, all nearly to adulthood. I’ve taken care of elderly grandparents and all that that means from moving them into a retirement home to burying them. I’ve run non-profits, owned businesses and had employees that I’m responsible for. I’ve faced the past and spent time working on me so I have a better future. I’ve dealt with crisis, deep sorrow and abundant joy.

But I still don’t know that I feel like a ‘woman’. Being a woman

I’m beginning to feel like this whole ‘becoming a woman’ thing is always going to be elusive for me. And if it’s not, I don’t know what life event, big or small, is going to create the mind shift that pushes me over the edge. I just Googled “how do you know you’re a woman” and got some  jewels. I also got the option of how to find out if I am a crazy cat lady. Good news. I’m not one, but I do know one.

I’d love your thoughts on this. Can you pinpoint a time where you knew you were a ‘woman’? Guys, feel free to join the conversation and tell me when you felt like you hit the ‘man’ stage. Or woman stage, if that’s the direction you went, lol. We’re all friends.




Back-to-School Tears

So, the last of the three kids has started school, which leaves me in tears.

They could be tears of joy. The house is quiet, the TV is off more often, I don’t have to nag my teenager about acting like a house plant. I can walk from my bedroom to the dryer and back in my underwear without hearing, “God, Mom! Gross!”

They could also be tears of sadness. Homework is coming down the pipeline, which means that soon I’ll be checking grades on-line and see a missing assignment or a bad grade and do a mom-freak-out which will result in rolling of the teenaged eye-balls. I’ll likely see a homework assignment come home that is just busy work, or not explained well, or just a dumb idea all together, and yet, it’ll have to be done. Probably with my assistance. Certainly with my insistence.

Is it too late to send the kid to boarding school? It’s been working great to have kids living away from home while going to college. I can only imagine the same would be true with a high school kid.

fridge batchcookingThe bummer is, that new school year starts out with so much hope. There are the new clothes, fresh haircuts, sharpened pencils and blank notebooks. There are even well stock pantries and refrigerators, filled with healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks. For about 10 minutes, we’ve got our sh*t together. Schedules are synched, alarm clocks are set and, Hello Miracle Of God, I don’t have to pull anyone out of bed by their toe nails, because they actually get up when the alarm clock goes off.

It doesn’t take long, however, for things to start falling apart at the seams.

Snooze becomes a regular thing, papers get lost, lunches get skipped and after two weeks of school we need, ‘just one more school supply item’ for a class, putting me over the edge.

I’m sure I sound cynical, but it’s not like I’m a kindergarten parent. I’ve been doing this for a while.  In fact, combined, I’ve been the parent of a student for 35 years. I have never had the desire to be a school teacher, but I’ve found myself, over the years, teaching (or re-teaching) every subject, from world history to pre calculus. Don’t even get me started on science fair. I’ve helped source research, edited papers, and, in fact, I’ve even written some of the papers. Don’t judge. If you are going to give an assignment (write a paper on the crisis in Ukraine and tell me what advice you’d give the President) without giving any further details, such as basics like WHERE Ukraine is or WHICH crisis in Ukraine or even a few credible sources from which students can glean their information for said paper, and then my kid spends two hours writing a paper on what happened in Ukraine when Stalin and then the Nazis invaded (which WAS, in fact, a crisis), you are going to get me, pissed off parent, writing the paper.

Side note, I got a 97% on the paper, but I have no idea where I lost the 3 percentage points because said teacher DOES NOT RETURN GRADED WORK. Seriously. So much for feedback. And I’d really like to know.

Side, side note, after writing said paper, my daughter and I took an hour long walk during which time I TAUGHT her about the current crisis in Ukraine, where Ukraine is and why the heck we even care. Yes, I did HIS job. He is welcome.

Although we’ve had some great teachers, I’ve certainly had my share of frustrating teacher moments in 35 years of having kids in school. I mean, bless them, because I certainly wouldn’t want to hang out with kids all day- especially middle school kids. Ugh. But, hey, you signed up for this gig. Not me. Don’t be sending them home with projects that we parents have to help with. I already went to school. I have a job. And I like to drink wine. Unless you want me to do a science fair project that involves me drinking wine, please keep your science fair projects in class.

The year is only three days old and already, there are signs of it going off the rails. I was reading the syllabus to my daughter’s World History class last night, because I have to sign a piece of paper that says I read it, and you never sign something you haven’t read, and I get to the end where the discipline policy for syllabusthe class is.

Now, I think it’s silly to have to put this on your syllabus for a high school class, but I understand that it’s not for the kids. It’s for the parents who think their kids are perfect and would never misbehave (this is NOT me). So when Johnny throws his eraser across the classroom and pelts Annie in the face with it, knocking off and breaking her glasses, there is a clear policy on how it’s handled because you can no longer take a switch or paddle to my kid or put a dunce cap on them and stick them in the corner (not every progression is progress, right?).  However, if you are a TEACHER and you are going to post your discipline policy IN ALL CAPS for the world to see and focus on, and then you are going to REQUIRE that parents sign off that they have read it, you should, by all means, make sure you use CORRECT SPELLING and PROPER FORMS OF WORDS.  I’ve been a teacher parent long enough that that sh*t jumps off the page at me and makes you look like an incompetent fool. If I have to edit a teacher’s writing, I might be a bit concerned about their ability to teach my child.

So, buckle up, parents. Here we go. Let the games begin. And keep our wine glasses full. We’re going to need the liquid encouragement.

Finding My Voice

I started losing my voice even before I was old enough to find it.

Little kids are known for blurting out truths that most adults are too polite to say. “Mommy! That man has a HUGE nose!” my son once boldly stated in the grocery store. Everyone turned to look at my adorable three year old, then at the object of his attention, then a few turned back to look at me to see what kind of woman had raised such a rude little boy. Hello. It’s me.  His intention wasn’t to be rude, he was too young for that. He was just stating the obvious, the truth. The man DID, in fact, have a HUGE nose. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen one bigger.

At a Christmas party, years ago, a little girl went up to a woman there and asked her, “Why are you so fat?” Again, a very bold question asked without hesitation, and really, without judgement. She was just curious. The woman WAS very fat. She was actually obese and later went on to have gastric bypass. The woman, who had had a lifetime of judgements issues against her because of her size, simply stated that, “God made me that way,” and the little girl seemed to be satisfied with the answer and moved on.

When we are young and figuring out the world and how we fit into it, we notice things, we are curious about things and we ask or make statements about things that are not always appropriate for public consumption. When we are teaching our kids that all questions are good questions, we can’t very well nail them to a wall when they ask one. Those awkward moments that kids give us, create the opportunities to have conversations about feelings and being kind, outward differences and inside similarities. It is in this way that most of us learn when to say what we think when it’s appropriate, and when to hold our tongue and keep the words inside.

When I think back to my childhood, the first time I can remember being told what I can or can’t say was when I was three. My dad had told my sister and I that he was going to marry ‘a new mommy’ for us. I was too young to know what the heck he was talking about. What’s a mommy? I hadn’t ever had one and wasn’t wise to the ways of relationships yet, so I had absolutely zero context to put that statement in. My sister, who was six, seemed excited, so I guess I was probably excited because of her reaction, but really, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Shortly after the wedding, when my dad wasn’t around, my step mom said to us, “I am not your mommy. I don’t want to be your mom and don’t you call me mom!”  I still was too young to really get what she was saying, but I remember being scared because she was so angry and I remember being even more scared because she had upset my sister, so I knew it was serious. That is how I ended up with a ‘Ruth’, instead of a mom. It took a couple of years, until I started school and started noticing that all the other kids had a ‘mom’ that brought them to school, or showed up during Christmas shows, that I realized that I didn’t have what everyone else had. I still didn’t really get it or know why. I just had a ‘Ruth’ and they all had a ‘mom’, but that day when I was three, was the day I started losing my voice.

From then on, I learned very quickly to use my words as little as possible when I was home. Being invisible was the best policy and if I couldn’t be invisible, very very quiet was the next best option. I learned what I could and couldn’t say to other people that would focus my step mom’s anger at me, learned that ‘if you tell, you will get it’.  I got very good at not telling. Not telling anything. The good, the bad or the ugly.

I got a globe for my birthday when I was in the fourth grade. It was my sole birthday gift from my dad. He had bought it at Target, where he was a manager. When he gave it to me, I didn’t know what to say. A globe? Why would I want a globe? I’m nine. While I was turning the globe over in my hands, trying to think about what to say about this gift that I didn’t know what to do with, I noticed that my dad had forgotten to take the price tag off the bottom of it. ‘Clearance $0.99’ it stated boldly on an orange sticker. Well, THAT certainly elicited some thought. My dad had just bought me a birthday gift that I didn’t want and didn’t know what the heck to do with that was priced at ninety-nine cents. Of course the $0.99 price was BEFORe his 10% employee discount.

The thoughts you might be thinking right now? Yes, they were all floating around my head, along with a few other ones. What came out of my mouth? “Thank you! I can use it for school!” Pathetic, right? It’s not that I was trying to think of something kind to say so that I wouldn’t hurt his feelings. I really wasn’t thinking about that at all. I just wanted for him to love me, and I knew saying what I was thinking wasn’t going to accomplish that, so I stuffed it deep and said something more pleasing. Something that sounded nice. Something that was not true. voice

A childhood full of these learned behaviors has created in me, an adult who has a really, really difficult time saying what is true, if I feel like it will hurt or upset someone that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I can speak forty kinds of truth to someone that I am not close to. My dad has quit calling me because I don’t let him live in la-la land. I call him on his crap now, every. single. time.  No problem with that. I have had fierce conversations with biological family members of my youngest daughter, laying it all out and telling them how things are going to have to be if they want contact with her. No problem with that. Most people that know me, would never believe that I have a hard time with words, because I don’t. Unless I love you. Unless I care about our relationship deeply. Unless I think that what I have to say will be unpleasing and make you love me less. What a hot mess, to be trying to find my voice at 42 years of age.

Back in June when we had our Storyline book club finale, we had a woman come to the house and lead a mediation for us.  I usually don’t do great with meditating because I can’t get into the hoo-doo voo-doo, overly spiritual-ness of the way many people meditate. This woman was not like that, so I was glad. I don’t know if I could have kept from rolling my eyes.

AnyWHO, as she was working through the meditation, she was going through the chakras. When she got to the throat chakra, and she had us meditating on it, I felt this big egg-like shape stuck in my throat. It felt like I was choking on it, it was so large. After the meditation was over, I asked about this feeling that I was still having in my throat, and she told me that I should ‘explore’ that. That I clearly have something going on there in the communication chakra that needs attention.  Well, sh*t. Tell me something I don’t already know.  Take your cute little meditation pillow and hit the road lady.

Undoing nearly forty years of learned behavior is not easy. It is not comfortable and it is not enjoyable. I think I’ve made progress, but it’s been in baby steps, with a couple of million miles to go. Will I ever be able to just ‘say it’? Well, let’s hope I can continue on the path that direction, but on the bright side, I’ll likely never be the old lady with no filter either.