Casual Feminism: A Father’s Lessons taught through Living

My father died when I was 24 years old and nowhere close to being settled in life. He never met my husband or children. Yet as I move through marriage and parenthood, the lessons he taught me bubble up from beneath the surface and manifest in my daily life. His legacy proves that much of what kids learn may not be overt ‘lessons,’ but rather a gradual osmosis of values and truths, illustrated by example. The values and truths of his life reveal a kind of casual and unobtrusive feminism that have become a part of my world view and shaped who I am.

On My Value:

My father was a coach and athlete, bestowed with three daughters. I never once CONSIDERED that he had wished for a boy. I remember overhearing his conversation with a relative once:

Poor guy, you never did get a son!”

Why would I want any kids other than these? They’re amazing! So smart. They are so so smart!”

We were all pretty girls, yet I rarely heard him comment on our appearance. On the other hand he constantly praised our intellect and encouraged our talents. He read every research paper I wrote although I can’t imagine they all held his interest. He inspired me to work harder in school with his sheer excitement over my accomplishments. Without coming out and saying it, he taught me that what was inside my head held more importance than the prettiness of my face. Placing value on attributes other than appearance made a lasting impact.

On Housework:

Before stay-at-home dads were in vogue or parental leave was extended to fathers, my dad was in the trenches. Every morning we woke up to him cooking us breakfast. Eggs, oatmeal or the occasional bowl of cereal were prepared by him while our mother got ready for work. He packed our lunches himself, balanced meals ready for us to grab on our way out the door. I want to point out that it literally never occurred to me until recently that it was my dad and not my mom doing these things. I’m not saying he was a hero for doing it – it was not an issue. He was just taking care of his kids.

But it became a relevant lesson when my husband and I started a family in a somewhat traditional and conservative suburb. I now frequently hear things like:

Omg you’re so lucky that your husband helps you clean! Most men don’t do things like that!”

“Oh your husband will babysit, that’s so nice!”

 

Every time some (well-meaning) woman is shocked that my husband is involved in the daily life of our kids, an image of my dad in the kitchen flashes to mind. It helps remind me that this concept of parenting as a team is not some new-fangled approach to child-rearing. It’s the way some people did it all along. Kids learn lessons from the balance of duties in our own homes whether we realize it or not, and mental pictures are worth more than a thousand words.

On Relationships:

My dad to me once after I brought a college boyfriend home for dinner:

“Amanda I just want you to be happy. But you need to listen to the way he talks to you. I didn’t hear much respect.”

To my sister who was contemplating ending a relationship:

“You can break up with him for any reason you want. You may just not like the color of his eyes anymore. It doesn’t matter the reason. If you want to end it that is your right.”

Years later I read between the lines of his specific advice. I hear that I should always expect to be treated with dignity and respect in my life. I hear that we are in charge of our relationships and are never obligated to compromise integrity or peace to save another’s feelings.

My dad favored harmony over hashing things out and would usually remain silent when my sisters and I debated politics at the dinner table. I doubt he would have been quick to label himself as a feminist. But every message he reinforced to me through his life tells me that he regarded me as an equal who should be treated as such. He taught me a lot about what it means to be a strong woman without ever coming out and saying the words. He wanted me to value my intellect and expect respect and equality from everyone in my life. If that’s not a feminist I don’t know what is.

His legacy reminds me that we all pass on messages to our children through not only the words we speak, but the lives we lead and the way we handle situations. I have a responsibility to live values I wish my kids to replicate, and I have a pretty good example on the way to do it. Hopefully I can try to emulate the ideals I want my children to value – one day I may just be surprised at what example taught them the most.

When does Mommy get to throw a fit?

My toddler threw an epic fit this morning because I put pants on him. Maybe he didn’t like those pants or maybe (more likely) he was just tired, but he screamed and thrashed around for a good 10 minutes. And as I waited it out I wanted to get on the floor next to him and kick and cry too. And I realized: I never get to lose my shit, and this mommy could really use a good tantrum.

See our family has been going through somewhat of a rough season. Unexpected bills, 3 cases of the flu and teething have put all of us on edge. But through all of it I trudge on, because as the saying goes: moms don’t get sick days. Although it is my life’s greatest calling, raising my children is the most stressful, scariest, hair-pullingest experience I ever could have imagined. It takes everything out of me. Sometimes I feel a little unhinged, but I can’t show it. So the question is: when does this mommy get to throw a fit?

Mornings I wrangle the kiddos into the car, drive to daycare and then work. I try to swipe a little makeup on my face, pour myself some coffee, and then it’s time to deal with the other civilized grown-ups. It is important for me to display acceptable office behavior if I want to keep my job. So no matter how overwhelmed or upset I may be, I have to put on a friendly face and act professional. It is certainly frowned upon to sit down at your desk and stomp your feet and cry, so morning outbursts are out of the question.

After work is the daycare pick-up. It’s basically a parking lot full of cars that are left haphazardly running, blocking empty parking spaces. But you can’t go full-on meltdown road rage in the daycare parking lot, even if the other parents park like inconsiderate morons. That is how your child gets uninvited to birthday parties for the rest of the year, and you get the look of disdain from their moms for even longer.

Then it’s home for dinner, baths and homework. Any one of these can be a potential source of conflict. Some days my kindergartner cries at the mere mention of flashcards. Or runs screaming because we are having chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, never mind that it was his favorite last week. And most days my toddlers flips out about something, whether it’s the injustice of bath time ending or his unrequited desire to stick his fingers into the electrical sockets. As most moms know, the only way to effectively diffuse these situations is to remain calm. If everyone is kicking and crying there would be nobody to calmly diffuse the situation. That’s my job. I get the big kid to eat, distract the toddler, soothe the anxieties and steer them towards bedtime. There’s no time for mommy meltdowns in the midst of bedtime routines.

If I’m lucky I get a shower before I get them in bed, but that’s not exactly sacred alone time. I am always listening for crashes or crying, and frequently interrupted with some terribly important question such as “mom who’s your favorite ninja turtle?”

By the time I fall in bed I’m too tired to even think about having energy for anything.

There is so much that is hard about motherhood. But the thing I find most challenging is that I am always on – always a responsible party. No matter how stressed or overwhelmed I am I have to remain rational and make the best decisions for the little people in my care. Some days I get overwhelmed and want to throw a larger-than-life fit, flailing arms and legs and all. But I have found that this mommy doesn’t get to throw tantrums. Not in this season of my life anyway – there’s just too much going on. I can however get away with stomping my feet a little if the mood strikes – a tiny victory that keeps me going.

Hang in there mommas, and if you need to throw a little fit now and then I understand. Let me know how it goes – I’ll be cheering you on.

Shit still hits the fan

There is part of me that (foolishly) believes being in recovery should make me exempt from struggle. Not the everyday issues we all got through, but the big stuff. A tiny part of my brain believes that after pulling myself out of the mire of addiction and hopelessness, I should get a break from now on. I went through hell, I survived, and from now on it will all be easy and sunny.

Life, of course, has other plans.

Shit happens. It is unavoidable and the test of our mettle is not that we avoid it, but how well we deal with and overcome it. My brain knows this, but my heart howls like a wounded puppy whenever a sudden and unexpected hardship appears on our horizon.

Last week my husband got laid off. This happens to people all over the country all the time. Luckily he’s eligible for unemployment, we have a 401k cushion to fall on, and he has skills that are in demand in today’s workplace. We have options, unlike so many others. We’re lucky.

It just doesn’t feel that way. All of my planning and over-preparing couldn’t prevent this from happening and although I am putting one foot in front of the other and taking all of the rational steps, inside my head I’m curled up in a ball crying “It’s not fair! We’ve already been tested! We get a pass!”

Only of course we don’t. There’s no threshold to the number of challenges we will face, and climbing one mountain doesn’t render the terrain flat for the rest of our lives.

I think it’s the uncertainty that takes me back to a place when my future was unclear and felt foreboding. And that scares me.

On the other hand it’s my recovery that keeps me from properly moping. I can’t hide in bed feeling sorry for myself when I have learned the importance of doing the next right thing and taking it one day at a time.

So the trauma of the past makes this setback all the more painful, but it also gives me the strength to push through it.

And push through it we will. Onward through the fog, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Because that’s what we do in this messy, imperfect life.

 

 

Love Goggles are for Moms too: Let’s start cheering for Ourselves

My husband thinks I’m some sort of a computer expert. Anytime something needs to be done on the computer he offers my services: “Let Amanda help you, she’s so good with computers!”
This is laughable. As far as technology goes, I barely get by in the modern world. I remember a little from college (10+ years ago) and have a perfunctory working knowledge of social media. Seriously I just set up ‘the twitter’ this month.
So why does he have such a skewed view of my abilities? Well first of all he doesn’t work on computers much, so compared to him I am pretty knowledgeable. But mostly he just sees me through love goggles. You know how when you love, admire and respect somebody so fully that you elevate their potential and always give them the benefit of the doubt? You’re seeing them through love goggles. That’s the way he sees me, regardless of the fact that my blog looks like a 12 year old set it up.
I am sure that you have someone in your life who sees you this way. Whether it’s your child, your parent, a friend or a co-worker, somebody in your life just thinks that you hung the moon. And most of us disagree with that person every chance we get.
My oldest son plays tee ball and during every game the stands are filled with moms cheering. They have homemade shirts with rhinestones painstakingly shaped into team logos or boys’ names. These last few weeks I have overheard many of these interchanges:
“Love that shirt!”
“Oh thanks. The shirts were on sale and I got the design off of Pinterest, it’s not like I designed it myself.”
Or these:
“You look great!”
“Oh no, haha. This outfit is just dark so it makes me look thinner than I am, and look – I have spit-up on my jacket!”
Then that same woman’s child hits the baseball barely three feet, and they are jumping up, screaming encouragement and beaming with pride.
“Your son is such a good ballplayer!”
“Oh thank you! We’re hoping he sticks with it – I hear the high school has a great team. We’re just so proud of our all-star!”
We moms almost always see our kids through love goggles. Sure, we know that they are not perfect but we have the innate capability to zero in on their most minute accomplishments and elevate these children to borderline rock-star status. We encourage them by shoring them up and cheering them on as they go along, celebrating small milestones along the way.
So why are so many of us quick to cheer for others but so swift to downplay ourselves? I’m guilty of it too. I will talk up my family all day, but give me a compliment and I have a horrible tendency to downplay my accomplishments or minimize their importance to me.
“Oh you like what I wrote? Thanks – it was just a little something I put together, I mean why not right? It’s not like I’m a professional writer or anything.”
Why? Why all the self-deprecation?
Why can’t I admit I worked really hard and am proud of something?
Why can’t we all gracefully accept compliments and acknowledge our own efforts and/or ambitions?
 
Why can’t we put on love goggles when we look at ourselves?
 
I am not sure if I’m afraid of failure or of worse: being seen as a self-interested woman more concerned with herself than the welfare of her family. It sounds like such an outdated concern but I venture to guess it is not. A tiny part of me (that I don’t like to acknowledge) fears putting focus on my own interests or ambitions will compromise how good of a wife and mother I am. I am not sure where that comes from, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of moms out there struggle with the same feelings. And I for one think it is ok to say: “Yes I worked really hard on this shirt, so thank you for acknowledging my effort,’ or “Thank you, I have been working out and I’m so glad someone noticed my progress!”  
What if we all tried looking at ourselves the way others look at us, or even better: the way we look at our kids?
As for myself, I’ve made lots of mistakes in life but I’ve also done lots of good things! Maybe if I try looking at myself with optimistic and admiring eyes I could achieve more. I know my son performs better with our love and encouragement. I’m worth the same effort. We all are. Mommas, it’s ok to take up space in our own families. Let’s save some love for ourselves too.

Live with less Fear: A lesson from my toddler

 holdenLast Easter weekend was a rarity in our household: it was beautiful weather AND we were all home with time to spare. We fit in as much play time and as many household tasks as was simultaneously possible. Saturday morning I played with the kids while my husband got the ladder out so he could climb onto the roof. He had to check something up there; I’m a little fuzzy on the details. (I have found sometimes it’s better for me to just say “ok honey” than open a long conversation about specifics.)
So there we were – my oldest playing soccer, my youngest running after him and my other half crawling around on the roof inspecting stuff. The ladder stood leaning against the house. Suddenly my 14 month old ceased his big brother stalking and make a beeline straight for said ladder. With wide eyes, a gleeful smile on his face and incoherent toddler babble coming from his mouth, he went straight to that ladder and tried to climb it. Not a moment of hesitation slowed him down. We all laughed because he has such a high estimation of his own abilities; he’s only been walking for 2 months yet sauntered over to that ladder like it was no obstacle. We all giggled and I tried to distract him. He was undeterred and tried again and again until I snapped a picture for posterity and relocated playtime to the front yard. He grunted at me, shrugged his shoulders and then found something new (and also somewhat dangerous) to occupy his interest.
Later that evening when I came across that picture I took pause. There was the tall ladder and little chubby hands gripping metal, but not a trace of uncertainty on his face. The image resonated in my mind and I began to think. How many ‘ladders’ had I backed away from? How many times in life did I retreat from a challenge because I was worried about failing/losing/falling short?
As long as I can remember I have loved to write. In childhood I had big plans to pursue writing or somehow incorporate it into my life.  But young adulthood presented challenges and I fell short of a college degree. I let the resulting injury of confidence sideline me, and I relegated thoughts of writing to the back burner, to daydream territory. I was afraid to even try, so I didn’t.
Even simpler, I remember teaching my oldest to use the monkey bars. I recall how I nervously glanced around the playground in hopes no one was watching. I didn’t want to look awkward to an audience if I fell down. How silly is it that I would worry about looking foolish on a PLAYGROUND? In the years since childhood it seems carefree abandon has been replaced with sensible and somewhat neurotic caution.
But my little nugget of a toddler bounds forth doggedly, with no worry of impressing others. He charges towards what he wants and tries to grab it, not considering that it may be out of his grasp or ability. He goes around or under anyone who tries to get in his way. He literally claps for himself if he succeeds. And if it doesn’t work out he grunts and moves on, quickly redirecting his energy elsewhere. There is very little moping and certainly no self-loathing for perceived failure. I doubt it would occur to him to drown his sorrows in ice cream for days after a setback like I have some adults have been known to do.
Of course it is necessary to exercise some caution in life – if he had gotten up that ladder disastrous and tragic consequences would have no doubt ensued. So yes, we must certainly use our knowledge of physics and common sense. We should bounce ideas off of our trusted posse of fellow ‘responsible grown-ups.’ But maybe what we see as our limitations are really just reflections of our own fears and hang-ups. I am certainly able to swing on monkey bars; it was my fear of looking silly that held me back. I am able to write SOMETHING; it was my fear of failure that kept me from even trying. If I were to attempt things more often perhaps I would be amazed. Will I write the next great American novel or become an awesome athlete? Doubtful. But I just may write something meaningful to myself, and I may have an awesome time playing with my kid. That sounds better than wondering what might have been.
As parents we are charged with keeping our children safe and it is imperative that we do so. But hopefully in turn they can keep us a little less safe – a little bit out of our own comfort zones. If we pay attention, their optimism is inspiring and can encourage bravery. I certainly hope to be a little braver myself and to consider taking a chance or two more often. One thing I know is this: I’ll never see the view from the top if I don’t try to climb the ladder.