Unpopular Opinion: Maternal Regret is Normal

“Traditionally, regret has been viewed as the purview of the childless.”

So claims an article in Canadian classic Maclean’s.

Penguins

The penguins are my babies and I regret nothing!

What? I understand childless people are often threatened with regret, but they don’t tend to voice it themselves.

Whereas, any parent can tell you, none of us do it right. Everyone comes out on the other side wishing they had known or understood something better. That they’d had more money or perspective.

But author Anne Kingston says when mothers express regret it’s “taboo.”

“Unsurprisingly, women who express regret are called selfish, unnatural, abusive.”

Which dovetails nicely with some Feminist ideas but just isn’t true in my experience. And I’ve been making small talk on playgrounds for over 10 years.

She lists other authors and articles along the same lines, illustrating the supposed trend of mothers admitting regret at having kids, and the backlash.

Really, anyone with an average understanding of feminine roles could imagine that reluctant mothers would be dumped on by a society that judges them by their children.

But down in the trenches it just isn’t this way.

Sure, there are tons of Mommy Bloggers whose beautifully curated lives make us all feel like Marge Simpson. But only Sanctimommies tear down other moms.

Reddit alone has several places where you can find real talk about mothering.

BreakingMom (Which I was recently auto-banned from for participating in Gender Critical spaces) is nothing but moms railing against the

Farm Girl

We’re all just trying to get shit done!

insanity that is parenthood.

BabyBumps has a lot of nursery pics and cute baby stories, but also plenty of scary moments and moms asking for advice.

ScaryMommy is a site whose entire premise is off-kilter takes on motherhood. The ‘Mommy Needs A Drink‘ trend is a hipper manifestation of this.

Yes, being a mom is fucking hard, sometimes in ways only other moms can understand. Sometimes we wish we were somewhere else. Sometimes we wonder what we might be doing if things were different.

Sometimes we even wish we had made different choices.

“Feeling trapped or suffocated is a common theme in Donath’s work; mothers felt ‘as if the metaphorical umbilical cord binding them to their children were in fact wrapped around their neck.’ Many women said they felt pressured to have children.”

No shit. That’s what Patriarchy does.

Obviously, we need to talk about it. But framing this as a babe-in-the-woods ambush is insulting to everyone.

If you feel suffocated by your children, first try reevaluating your approach to parenting. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and with so much coming at us all the time, we probably feel like we are not doing enough.

Yesterday I was walking out of the bank at noon and realized literally the only thing I had done for myself that day was use the bathroom!

Bed Time

Did I miss story time?

There are only so many hours in a day, but childhood is long. Every moment is precious, but not crucial, if that makes sense.

I feel like I say no all the time, and I’m still swamped! It’s difficult to set boundaries but it’s better for everyone.

My trick has been to find a hobby no one else likes. The garden is on the sunny side of the house and involves using muscles and getting dirty. The only one who really wants to help is the toddler.

But all this takes some introspection. Because to admit regret is to admit complexity. Those of us who sit with our regrets are the type to consider things in depth.

French psychotherapist Corinne Maier is quoted sounding very French indeed, saying, “Her two children left her ‘exhausted and bankrupt,’ and she couldn’t wait for them to leave home.”

She was so upset about it she wrote a “manifesto.”

Kids are exhausting and expensive. We know this. If you decide that makes their existence a net loss for you, that’s a pretty harsh evaluation.

To say that you have regrets is different from saying you’d prefer something else. Saying I could have done better is not the same as saying I wish I hadn’t tried.

The impression I get is that some women want to be able to say, “In my perfect world, my kids wouldn’t exist,” and not

Golf Or Tennis Ladies

So I told Gary, practicing your swing is self-improvement!

get flack for it.

Which is why it’s all couched in this meta-analysis of the supposed blowback for normal maternal regret. If someone calls you a bad mother for admitting depth, she is the one with the problem.

And I just don’t see it on the ground.

If you are preoccupied with how much better your life could have been without your kids to the point you can’t wait to be rid of them, you may be the source of your own discontent.

Clicking around Maclean’s I found a counterpoint about the “collapse of parenting.” Cathy Gully quotes Vancouver psychologist Gordon Neufeld, “When parents realize that they are their children’s best bet, it challenges them to their own maturity.”

This really hits a nerve for me. I have felt myself chafe against the demands of parenthood many times. I have begun to learn what is a need calling out and what is my ego lashing out.

If you’re in charge of someone else’s life, you have to get your shit together.

“They become, in effect, the grown-ups their children need.

Or, at least, step up to the challenge.

Maternal Regret

Does it still count if I take my teddy bear with me?

If you are more worried about all the stuff you could be doing than any of the rest of the multifaceted experience we call motherhood, I can’t say that you are a bad mother.

But it definitely makes you shallow.

And “regretting parenthood, not the children” is less like being against the war but not the soldiers, and more like having your cake and eating it, too.

“I love you, but I wish you weren’t here” is nonsensical and mean. And using Patriarchy as an excuse for your inability to build meaningful relationships is as offensive as it is sneaky.

Maternal regret is normal. And it does get talked about. But it’s not the same as wishing your kids away.

Women have enough trouble discussing our issues without malingerers muddying the waters. Unironically using the supposed sanctity of motherhood as a cover to avoid criticism for being a jerk is a big middle finger to struggling mothers everywhere.

Part of being a true friend is calling your friend on her bullshit. And honey, this is some bullshit. Patriarchy is not why no one wants to hear about why you don’t like your kids.

Why Do Men Run the World?

The film begins with a man in a kitchen. It’s the scene of a revolution, he says, where men and women are renegotiating the human power balance.

By The Wrists

This isn’t what I meant by ‘holding hands’!

When you don’t get much time to sit and read, a good documentary can be the greatest thing.

I found one that really pulls it all together. And it’s over 25 years old!

Dr. Gwynne Dyer is another new name to me. He’s getting up there these days but still maintains an active publishing and speaking career. He even has a Twitter.

He’s a journalist and historian who’s taken his education and experience and synthesized a unique perspective. He uses it to spell out the origins of Patriarchy.

He explains why it first emerged and how it’s become an outdated handicap.

Filmed in 1992, the backdrop of the inaugural festivities of President Bill Clinton provides its starting example of The State. Militarized, hierarchical.

Then he takes us all the way back to the cave times. Hunter-gatherer societies were different depending on their circumstances. Some were warlike boys’ clubs, but others were egalitarian.

Dr. Dyer tells us that, before agriculture, there is little evidence of one sex being considered superior. Then with the advent of farming – “probably invented by a woman” – men suddenly lost their role.

A Men’s Revolution

During the village time, the members of the village discussed things and came to a consensus of how things would be. But women oversaw the homestead.

Hilda Reaps

I make things grow, what can I say?

Fertility goddesses reigned supreme. Hunting was no longer necessary, and men took a back seat. He tells us archeologists find 100 female fertility figures for every one male figure from this period.

But perhaps most gut-wrenching of all was that, at the birth of the concept of Wealth, a man’s property was passed to his sister’s child when he died, not his own.

You might not know who a child’s father is, but you always know who the mother is.

Dr. Dyer tells us about “the makings of a revolution, ….so old it’s not in the history books.” Men took over and spent thousands of years taming the power of female sexuality.

As agricultural villages coalesced into nation-states, a full quarter of the early Mesopotamian laws were restricting what women could do.

Huda Lutfi taught history at the American University of Cairo in 1992. She had many amazing things to say in this film. She was studying women in Medieval Islam, which meant reading between the lines.

Women in Medieval Islam are invisible. They wrote nothing and left no records. She says she knows what they were doing by what the scholars wanted them to stop doing.

Why Would Our Men Do This to Us?

Why did men, who basically cared about their mothers and wives and sisters and daughters, cooperate in such a scheme?

As civilization became bigger and more complex, tyranny was the only way to keep everyone together. Ruling by terror was the only way to communicate to the masses.

Despair

How could you do this to me, babe?

Needing to Defend Their Country Gave Men Status Again

Dr. Dyer shows us how the great pharaohs’ tombs are surrounded by hundreds of other graves belonging to servants and slaves. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Welcome to civilization.”

These men who stepped up to fight other aggressive men offered men in general a much-needed status boost.

“Sure,” says Dr. Dyer, “you’ll have to obey us but you’ll have control over your women. And your property will go to your sons when you die.”

And Patriarchal religions tied it all together, the Universe a perfect hierarchy with God at the top. Then man, then woman.

Why Push Women Down?

The tyranny necessary to create and defend a nation is fueled by soldiers. If women have freedom, the birth rate drops because babies are a lot of work. And women develop other interests.

Reducing women so our only place in society is childbearing is how you get enough soldiers to win.

“Men Were Never Oppressed.”

Dr. Dyer tells us how global mass communication is chipping away at “the old ways.” Global culture is, by its very nature, more cooperative. More feminine, I suppose, if only by virtue of women participating at all.

One thing that hits me that Dr. Dyer doesn’t really dwell on is, “men were never oppressed.” When women have freedom we don’t use it to lock men away. A woman-lead society is a more equal society.

I believe part of this is because of innate differences in perspective. The interconnectedness of people can be a brutal force in your life when you make people with your body.

And when that body and the world remind you of this possibility incessantly.Film Capture

A record number of women were elected to Congress in 1992. One of them was Elizabeth Furse from Oregon. She tells the story of taking the group picture on the steps, she was at the top, in the back.

Just in time, two white men stepped in front of her. “There’s no me, it’s almost like I’m not there.”

Above the pageantry of the 1992 inaugural parades, Dr. Dyer tells us that Patriarchy is slowly collapsing.

After 5,000 years, Patriarchy is not just in our institutions, it’s in our heads. But it is not in our genes.

“The problem is not ‘human nature,’ it’s that mass societies are still trapped inside the ancient machine they built thousands of years ago, to deal with the problems of thousands of years ago.

Lifeguard

Just stay right there, okay, cutie? You know, forever.

“The machine called Patriarchy was the only way to run an early mass society. It was refined into both a killing machine and a breeding machine as the early mass civilizations started fighting one another. And we conquered the whole planet with it.

“But now, our weapons have become so destructive that we can no longer afford to fight major wars. And we don’t actually have to live in patriarchal dictatorships anymore. Mass communication means that we can be democratic.

“Patriarchy no longer makes sense as an institution.”

As a white man and military historian, he has no axe to grind here. I think this makes his words that much more insightful.

He leaves us in the kitchen where we began, saying men and women are renegotiating the most fundamental human partnership. He offers this as reason for hope.

He doesn’t specify what partnership he means but, as he shares a bite with a little girl in the final shot, the meaning is clear.

Reproduction and raising the next generation is both the biggest burden and the biggest opportunity we have to impact the future. In modern times, women have asserted our rightful place of power in the system.

We don’t want to enslave men. We want our reproductive capacity to not be weaponized against us.

Dr. Dyer’s hopeful tone stands out to me because many of us are good at pointing out where Patriarchy fails us, but so few have an inkling where we are going from here.

He leans into snark a few times, making his own feelings clear: Patriarchy is on the way out, and everyone will benefit. Just as a natural result of the evolution of society.

This information should be everywhere. It should be in children’s books and kitchen conversations.

Understanding our past will enable us to consciously create a better future. So few of us have any real understanding of the causes or the effects of the societal structure we live in. We tend to take it for granted (or even claim it doesn’t exist!)

We can’t afford to go stumbling into the future without a strong understanding of ourselves.

Watch the movie, it’s less than an hour long. It explains everything.

Shaken, But Not Stirred

WARNING: Rant ahead!

I’m so frustrated lately with my job search! I keep applying for writing gigs, but I only apply to things that really seem like a good fit. And running into the same old problem of not really fitting in anywhere.

Wuthering Heights

Where is everyone?

This last one was a blog ghostwriting service. They literally wanted me to do what I do here, for money. On whatever topic was provided. I let myself get excited when they responded positively because it seemed like a natural step.

So today when I read they were “going another direction” (I’ll go whatever direction you want, that’s the whole idea!) I was unprepared. And embarrassed at being so upset.

But I really needed this right now. Hubs got laid off two months ago and has been focusing on school. At the end of it he’ll have a high-powered degree. I have been teaching and working at the restaurant, but Breadwinner just isn’t a position I am a good fit for at the moment.

The little guy is 21 months old, and is finally starting to get over the awful rash he’s had for two months. He’s been a delight to be around since he’s feeling better, playing toddler games and learning new words every day.

When I come home after a day (or night) of work, too often all the pacifiers are lost. He’s been laid down for the night in shorts, scratching his scabs open. I don’t know what he’s eaten. Clothes are misplaced. I missed something adorable and unrepeatable.

Hiding In The Lobby 1

Gotta keep it together!

When my 5th grader was little, I took advantage of living with family to stay home with him as much as I could. I worked sporadically, part-time, trying to get a foot in the door of my chosen field. But I hadn’t turned my whole life around to not raise my child.

When they’re bigger we pack them off to school, largely so they can find their own footing in the world outside home. It’s natural that they begin to build their own experiences and friendships.

Little ones, younger than 3 or 4, have a stronger need for a connection with one main caregiver. They are constantly changing and unable to communicate most of their needs. More than this, they need a near-constant guiding hand they can rely on.

Don’t get me wrong – My family does a good job taking care of him. They might let him stay up later than I would, but he always gets a nap and his meals. He gets played with and loved on.

Maybe part of it is my own selfish need as a mother to KNOW he’s okay. I understand that many women are not maternal in the least. Until I had my own, I wasn’t either. But when that switch flipped, it flipped hard. Most of the time, it’s actually easier for me to relax with him around.

And when he isn’t I am constantly distracted. I could work more hours and have more money, but I already feel like tearing my hair out.

So I try to use my real skills. I don’t have a journalism degree; sometimes I can’t escape the feeling of being punished for chasing my dreams instead of being practical. But I never appreciated how my capacity for wordsmithing could serve me.

Secretary

If only people would let me correct them!

Yesterday I read a HuffPost article with an entire paragraph from the beginning repeated at the end. An entire paragraph! Someone got paid good money to not proofread that!! 

I see this stuff all the time and it drives me insane –

Misspellings.

Poor word choices.

Sentences so badly put together I have to reorder them in my head to understand them.

On Huffington Post.

On MSNBC.

On Medium.

The New York Times still holds a pretty high standard, but New York Magazine is better.

While attempting to keep up with news and culture I am bombarded with reminders that I am good enough. Either someone will give me a gig or I will piece it together until I can raise my head above the fray and shout, “I am Brazen!

None of my switches can be unflipped, it seems – Not Motherhood, and not my newfound sense of agency. I have slain my dragons and a strange, unexpected feeling of deep calm has come over me as the dust settles. My fury only fuels me. My time is coming.

Beware The Were-Bitch: PMS & You

I’m not sure how to write this post. I only just came to the idea that the sheer bald-faced panic I faced recently wasn’t cured by the extra sleep or the vitamins or my husband’s attention. It basically seemed to evaporate along with my menstrual period.

Indtruder

The call is coming from inside the house!

Fucking hell.

I have had this thought before, but my cramps are mild and I only bloat a little, I have always counted myself lucky that I don’t get a lot of the physical symptoms. So it never occurred to me that I might need to look out for extreme mental ones.

But last week, dear readers, things got dark for me. I kinda thought I was losing my mind or something. I seemed unable to communicate anything important to anyone and the whole world seemed to take on a dark pallor. (It didn’t help that it rained literally all week. Thanks, climate change!) But mostly I was just sickeningly tired. Head-pounding, stupidly tired.

That’s where I started looking for information. I was researching exhaustion and workplace mismatch. But I’m also finally desperate enough to acknowledge the timing of my little meltdown, and that it’s happened before. I was proud of myself for sailing through work pretty well despite wanting to hurt everything that moved.

I’m pretty practiced at it, actually.

I ended up looking at things for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – You become super-sad before your period. Because hormones, they think.

Needing five symptoms for a diagnosis, I easily checked off eleven.

Hmmm. I have not kept track of this because I have been on The Pill for most of the last 20 years, I don’t worry about when my period is coming. And my symptoms are so mild, right?

Crazy Eyes

No! I’m fine! Really!

In February 1963 Sylvia Plath carefully insulated her sleeping children before sticking her head far back in her oven. She had been notorious for intense mood swings and previous suicide attempts, while of course also composing some of the most evocative prose of her day. She was 30.

Years ago I read a convincing article that argued she suffered from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, in addition to Bipolar Disorder. But the picture was drawn of a young woman possessed by her monthly cycle.

I read this like watching a horror movie, then promptly filed it away. Such a frightening idea that someone so brilliant could be so ensnared by something so mundane.

And some people don’t believe PMDD exists at all. Dr. Joan Chrisler, who is a psychology professor and president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research insists it’s “culture-bound.” This implies women in other parts of the world don’t experience any of the familiar PMS symptoms.

According to Feminist Voices“Chrisler’s research on menstruation critically examines social understandings of menstruation, such as the cultural construction of ‘PMS’.  In speaking about the constructed history of PMS, she states, “it is amazing to think in the 1970s that nobody knew what it was and now everybody thinks she has it.””

Exasperated And Drunk

Feeling like shit – It’s the latest craze!

According to Medium, “these mood symptoms are culturally over-attributed to the menstrual cycle, and could be indicative of other issues — such as lack of social support, stress, declining health.” I think we’re onto something here.

“PMS, like the “wandering womb” and “uterine suffocation”, blames the female reproductive organs for negative conditions associated with those who have a uterus.” Hell yes. Maybe the common denominator is…. something else. But female=/=bad.

Medium wraps it up, “The underlying theme remains the same: that those born with a uterus are controlled by it.” Yeah, screw that! Just like men aren’t controlled by their…. Well they kind of are, tho’, right?

Every single one of these fun articles was inspired by the same book, The Geography of Madness by Frank Bures. In it he follows the concept around the world that some populations suffer from maladies that just don’t exist in other places.

He does report that symptoms such as pain, fatigue and bloating are pretty universal, but says Western psychosomatic mood issues stem from old ideas about “hysteria.”

I suspect the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. For one thing, women outside of the West are discouraged from reporting and probably from feeling certain things, just like we are. Why is their lack of reporting emotional issues any more reliable than our experience of them?

And the serious mental issues many women report may be the kernel of truth behind what Hippocrates and all the rest have been gabbing about.

Time confusingly muses, “So is the concept of PMS just a remnant of sexist ideas about women’s changing moods from a time when most physicians were male? The new study from a team led by Dr. Sarah Romans of the University of Otago in New Zealand, reviewed 47 studies that followed women’s moods across the menstrual cycle, but unfortunately isn’t designed to provide an answer.

White Woman

Everybody knows white women are too busy loving white men to accurately experience our own lives!

“For one thing, because they wanted to look at healthy women, the authors excluded data on women seeking help for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a syndrome they do not dispute, in which 1% to 9% of women experience extreme mood problems related to the menstrual cycle.”

So, they admit it exists while dismissing the idea as medicalized moods. Bizarrely, the studies they cite didn’t find any consistent evidence of premenstrual anything. Which is weird, and all very well but I’m not seeing fuckin ghosts here. 

Maybe it’s the Western diet. Maybe it’s hormones in the water. Maybe it’s the special kind of shit we deal with every day. But more research and talking need to happen.

The American Psychological Association (the official psychologist’s club in the US) also quotes Dr. Paula Caplan as saying, “It is really appalling that using PMDD for women who want recognition for discomfort is a very clear message that goes something like: ‘OK, OK, we’ll believe you are feeling bad if we get to call you mentally ill for feeling bad.’ Can you imagine if we did that to men?”

Okay, true enough. Men do get to go around acting crazy an awful lot.

But Dr. Caplan, who wrote They Say You’re Crazycontinues, “emotional displays that are considered normal in men are seen as a mental disorder in women.”

That may be, but what I experienced last week was far from what I would consider normal emotional displays for anyone.

Salon gathers many threads around Sylvia Plath, explaining, “Plath endlessly noted her agonizing symptoms, castigated herself for her inability to gain control over her life, even dreamed frequently about her periods, and yet could not make the connection between her cycles of fertility and cycles of torment.”

X Ray

Internal organs only make you look fat, anyway!

And it can get worse as you get older.

How long has this been going on?? It explains the maddening tendency for my rage and anxiety to reappear seemingly out of nowhere. It could have served to help obscure the annual gulag that is seasonal depression. Salon quotes PMS expert Dr. Glenn Bair, “Depression is the slowest symptom to clear, and in fact seems to build up over time,” as your lack of ability to control your emotions starts to affect your life.

The American Psychological Association carries on being dismissive. Dr. Chrisler says that officially dubbing severe premenstrual symptoms a Disorder “allows you to hold onto a view of yourself as a good mother who doesn’t lose her temper.”

What mother believes such nonsense? For a group who claim to speak for women, these people are very dismissive of women’s stories.

It sure looks like a real thing to me. There’s a subreddit, of course. There’s this heartbreakingly eloquent essay by a woman who took the only way out she could find. She found relief by having all of her reproductive organs removed.

Ironically, what we have here is a disorder that most people assume is all in your head being dismissed by the head shrinkers as not existing at all. 

It sure looks real. In 1993 Dr. Jean Endicott of the New York Psychiatric Institute published a paper where she reported, “there is evidence from autopsies that completed suicide is more likely to occur during the late luteal phase of the cycle.”

Were Bitch

I feel something sneaking up on me!

What a tangled web we weave! In its introduction to the Sylvia Plath article, Salon explains, “Aesthetic purists tend to attack all such biological-influence theories as reductive,” which is a great way of saying no one likes to believe just how much the state of our brains affects the state of our minds.

I haven’t been treating myself well for a while now. It’s been a hellish year, no joke, on many levels. Still waiting for that lull where I can catch my breath and it just hasn’t come. The past couple months have seen my thoughts turn especially dark and it’s starting to get scary.

Hubs and I occasionally play with the idea of moving back to Cleveland. It’s where we met, where family still lives. But I’m not sure if life without seasonal depression is something I’m willing to give up.

I think if I take better care of myself this other ugly manifestation will fade too. As embarrassing as it may be, I’m excited to have a new puzzle piece. I’m tracking things for a couple of months to make sure, but the difference between this week and last week plus the deja-vu of it all have me pretty convinced.

And in the back of my mind, I have known it was getting worse for a while. PMS is usually reserved for punchlines, and I have been living with the mistaken assumption that strength of physical symptoms was an indicator of overall effect. It never occurred to me that when I thought I was losing my mind my body was just roaring its primal female scream.

If women had built the world, there would be entire subcultures and religions dedicated to the reproductive cycle. Sects of women in various states and phases of life, great works of art and literature, whole schools of thought informed by the experience of living in a female body.

You know, like how we’re always hearing about their goddam dicks.

As much as we hate to be reduced to our bodies, the somatic experience is a vital element in how we understand the world. If your brain is not working right, neither are you.

I need more veggies, exercise and sleep. I need a schedule that doesn’t involve being up half the night all the time. Maybe then I will find the energy to get things done.

Adulting: Fighting The Don’t Wanna

They say having kids around keeps you young. Conversely, I actually find that having kids makes me feel older, but usually in a good way.

Growing Up Is Hard To Do

Ribbon Stillettos

Forget dress codes, I can’t face the world without my ribbon stilettos!

Into my 20s I was still waiting for the day I would grow into my life like a new pair of shoes. Extended adolescence is a thing, and everyone I knew seemed afflicted. My generation was going in many directions and none of them were toward stability.

Then I unexpectedly became a parent. Conscience demanded that I drag my hungover ass to the park every day, make real dinner and read baby books over and over. Sometimes Fake It Till You Make It is your only option.

Before I knew it the sense of responsibility began to bud into little sprouts of authority. Shared looks with other parents in the store. I found myself telling my own mother what to do, my child’s routine and preferences.

My life has been full of dead ends where I found myself backtracking. Development of myself as an authority has been fitful. I spent my 20s either in school or living with family while I raised my son. The world outside can get to looking very big and complicated.

Then, once again, conscience demanded action. I found myself with two young teen girls who desperately needed a mother. Of course, they didn’t want me. As a child of divorce, I understood. I dug my heels in and worked hard to establish myself in the situation.

Parenting Teenagers: OMG We’re Surrounded!

It’s not something you can tell them, plans and promises are empty for children of liars. It’s something that you have to just do, again and again. You have to play the long game. You have to say no, and you better have good reasons because they can smell inconsistency like blood in the water.

They’re used to loose boundaries full of loopholes. They threatened mutiny when I instituted a bedtime on weekends. They bend and slant situations for their own benefit. Explanations for their mistakes always begin with someone else’s name.

George Elgar Hicks The Happy Mother 1886 E1545071745935

Building neurons of positivity!

And sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you have to hide in your room and cry, you feel so small and lame. How are you ever going to make a difference for them if you can’t even keep yourself together?

Then you remind yourself of the time scale. You remind yourself that you’re what they’ve got. They’re counting on you whether they know it or not. You wipe your face, crack a bottle of wine and dive in again.

And slowly they begin to relax. Standing firm against their pushback gives them something to lean on. They call you during their little emergencies, yell at you when you don’t give them what they want, tell you they love you and hang up.

Later she apologized on her own. “And you were right, of course.”

Wait, When Did I Become The Adult?

At some point I got to be in my mid-30s. I wear a lot of below-the-knee skirts and flats. My eyes are tired and my hair is lightening around the edges. Perfume bottles stand like party guests on top of my dresser. I’m that lady.

Hilda Nostalgia

We grow up so fast!

I roll my eyes at a lot because I remember it from 20 years ago.

I’m not afraid of 40. I don’t feel insecure that I don’t get K-Pop or how exactly “joggers” are not sweat pants. Because I have more important things to worry about.

When my first son was little, wrenching myself out of bed every day was something I did because I knew it was the right thing. I wish every situation in life was so clear-cut! I did it because I wanted him to have memories of his mom playing with him, not avoiding him.

My own parents played this fun game where they managed to avoid you without actually going anywhere.

I figured at least I could give the kid the impression someone cared.

Because I always did. But now with my second son it’s different. I rise with the question, “What are we doing today?” Every day is another refinement of a system that constantly evolves.

Some time in the last decade I became an Adult. I have begun to encounter the amazing effect of assumed authority. When I walk into a school, I let my attire and body language do a lot of the talking. I don’t have to justify my presence to anyone which is a weird, new thing for me.

The Don’t Wanna!

And at the age of 35 I think I’ve finally gotten over the hump of the Don’t Wanna!

Kids especially beat their heads against the wall of Fate, cursing existence for putting them in a position to do something against their will. The toddler screaming because he doesn’t want to sleep is like the teenager who won’t wear a coat. The sense of personal impulse is most important.

Phone In Bed 1

She threw up? Okay, I’ll bring clothes. See you in a few!

I think a lot of people never really get past this. Paying your bills is hard if you have to convince yourself that you want to every month. Dishes pile up fast and tend to stay there when energy is spent struggling with the Don’t Wanna instead of just getting things done.

Because they need doing. So we can have clean dishes. It’s amazing how well you end up thinking things through when the kid won’t stop asking questions.

Because not every situation gets a grand explanation. Because a lot of life is tedious. It can’t all be important. And all those high-minded notions are probably just a work-around for the Don’t Wanna.

As I get older, my sense of identity is less dependent on the moment. I can change my presentation entirely for a new job in an unfamiliar environment and not hear the little voice say, “Is this what I am now?”

And when I do express myself it’s easy because I have carefully curated my collection of stuff. Trial and error have taught me what works, what I like. The Self can’t be found, it must be created.

Basically, so much thought that becomes second nature around puberty is melting off like baby fat off a relay runner.

Situations that would have freaked me out in the past are handled with customary frenetic focus. Only later do I sometimes look back in amazement at how I have become.

Seems like being a step-mom is finally grinding down the last of my Don’t Wanna, and I’m happy to see it go. The constant questioning of youth is answered by the honed execution of middle age. I’m existing in the brief moment when I have learned enough to get by and still have the energy to do something with it.

“You don’t know how badly I want to skip school tomorrow.”

As I watch my kids step through the stages unaware they aren’t the first, I enjoy the space between us. My extra perspective is a steadying force, insulating me from the crashing waves of sensation that can be so all-consuming.

Life is sometimes boring and disgusting. If you want one, you have to accept this.

Mad Woman

For reasons lost to the meanderings of my mind, it recently dawned on me that my anxiety isn’t really anxiety at all.

I am filled with submerged rage. I didn’t ask to be born to a bunch of emotional idiots. I struggle daily with the effects of their bullshit. To some degree, I’m still angry for every pointlessly mean thing, for every clueless utterance.

Hammer

The difference between a tool and weapon is how you use it!

Because I never found a way to express my anger. I have been afraid of it, afraid of losing control of it. I don’t want to hurt myself or anyone else.

So I tamp it down. I keep it contained as best I can but it rattles its cage and howls at night. It vibrates my nerves and keeps me agitated.

When you can’t fight and you can’t flee, and the danger is also what you rely on, emotional static builds up and sparks fly.

My anger is so big I can’t even really see it, it’s impossible to consider it all at once. Most of my negative experiences have become lessons or just forgotten. But my family dysfunction is so stupid and pernicious, my thoughts unconsciously shaped by it, and all because a couple of jerks couldn’t hold a relationship together.

I’m angry over the wasted potential – to be told I was “gifted” at eight, then moved around every year for six years and allowed to totally fall through the cracks. I literally was never taught to multiply. I was expected to understand long division without ever seeing a times table.

So now I have a shitty education and a shitty job, I’m just trying not to pass the shitty behavior on to my own children.

I have been using the manifest anxiety as a sort of buffer for the world. It’s a goddam defense mechanism just like so many others in my gene pool. Fortunately, I seem to be pretty smart. It’s basically fake, and now I’m furious with myself for perpetrating such cowardly garbage.

For a moment. Then my vision comes into focus and I raise my head with a steady gaze. I mostly even had myself convinced and, as horrible as it is to see this, I know shining a light on it is the only way to eradicate it. It’s a habit of thought, and I have to remind myself over and over but it’s kind of amazing. If you can’t be honest with yourself, what do you have?

Bus Stop

Eventually, the pebble in your shoe becomes a boulder!

I am angry and I have reason to be. I’m done abdicating my feelings and driving myself half crazy. I’m ready to take ownership of my energy.

Not meaning that I want to, that I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. It’s something that I can’t unsee. And as I let myself feel my anger, accept that the anxiety is a dodge, the relief is intense.

I am a whole person, free from searching for validation. My mind buzzes with ideas but I feel less distracted.

Sometimes anger is exactly the right way to feel.

But I am afraid. What I’m afraid of is myself. 

When a feeling is so intense that it forces its way to the surface no matter what you do, there is a sense you don’t have control over yourself. If your emotions rule you, you lose your free will. But in avoiding dealing with it, that is exactly what has happened. It manifests as freak-outs and crying jags.

When I’m angry I don’t know how to express it so I just become upset. (Perversely, when I’m sad I will become angry as a defense mechanism. But that’s a different post. Emotional growth, yay!)

Lately I have started isolating myself and letting myself be angry. It works! I recover faster and figure out what is really going on and what to do about it. A lot of times, there’s nothing to do. But it feels amazing to step outside the loop I have been stuck in for 30 years. 

And I look forward to bringing it to bear on bigger things. Anger is a powerful motivator and there are many corners of the world that could benefit from the intervention of a mad woman.

Whither the Boys?

When women run the world, what will we do with those pesky males?

I have encountered several different angles on the question of being a Feminist while still pursuing less radical womanly things. Especially parenting.

Mother And Her Children By Alfred Stevens 1883

I could be attending a lecture right now!

I read an entire essay about how one woman dislikes males so much she can’t understand why any woman would have a son.

She said it’s misguided to tell women we can counteract the patriarchal culture that tells boys they are entitled. That a mother’s love goes unappreciated and just lays the foundation of their entitlement.

She and some commenters shared anecdotes of little boys being awful to illustrate how boys are allowed to be bad.

Okay, so teach them better.

But we wouldn’t want to give women an illusion of power to influence their own children.

Has this woman never heard of archetypes? Sigh

I read one by a self-proclaimed ex-Radfem who found herself spiraling into fear and hatred to the point she states, point-blank, that Radical Feminism is driven by hate.

She raised several good questions but didn’t answer any of them, one being whether a group is responsible for the behavior of the extremists in their ranks. I would argue that we are, but I’m not sure what to say to someone who has completely written off half the human race.

1950s Usa Johnson And Johnson Magazine Advert

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

Hating someone because they remind you of someone who hurt you is not fair. Or healthy. Or productive.

If you hate males, fine. Avoiding them is probably best. If you don’t want to have children, we’re all better off if you stick to that.

But it’s weird to me that those of us who have taken the opportunity to do what thousands of generations have done, without which there would be no future generations, are made to feel like the outliers. Like we owe others an explanation.

Yeah, I fell in love and had a child with the man I love. That’s right, he’s a man. Our child will be one day, too. I still think women should be liberated from the oppressive system that reduces us, one way or another, to our breeding status.

And none of this cancels out the horrific stories and statistics about male violence. Whenever a specific example of a man who isn’t an asshole is brought up, it is immediately shot down with variations of the adage “anecdotal evidence is evidence of nothing.”

I wrote an entire post about how we need to examine our motives and influences in our decision-making, especially along sexual lines. But if we do and come to a conclusion that doesn’t involve somehow removing men from our lives, no explanation seems good enough for some

Fit To Kill

I can wear whatever I want! Watch out, you wild animals!

hardliners.

I believe strongly in the major tenets of Radical Feminism. Female oppression is alive and well and must be opposed. Gender roles keep people in boxes that support patriarchy. When I read in black and white that we are what we are and not conforming to expectations was normal, I realized I had always known this. But finding it written out crystallized it in my mind.

I see Patriarchy in my life every day. I have two teenage daughters and they seem to have it worse than we did 20 years ago. I want to work toward a world where boys are taught to focus on their work rather than girls being punished for showing their knees. (Through ripped jeans! In the 90s we would have been lost without our ripped jeans! These girls were WEARING PANTS.)

And I understand that my personal positive experience doesn’t change the fact that many women are relegated to half-lives because they might have a baby.

But I’m also practical at heart. Eradicating males or turning them into some kind of slave class is (aside from being cruel and hypocritical) completely impractical!

This, beyond anything, is my frustration with Feminism of every stripe (except those who are supposedly Feminist but don’t believe patriarchy exists. So what is Feminism to you, some kind of sparkly ruffle book club? What do you think we’re doing here??) We are great at pointing out the flaws in the system and articulating and scrutinizing them.

But no one has any real solutions.

And teaching our sons better is apparently a waste of time.

A Knockout

Whatever, I’m ready to rumble!

This is so frustrating because how are we to fix anything?? Slowly elect a few more women to Congress and hope they aren’t as corrupt as their male peers? I have never seen any evidence that women are less corruptible than men. And it occurs to me that the image of Woman as Stalwart Defender of Morality has a very Puritanical feel to it if you sit with it for a minute or two.

We are all still digging out from under entrenched ideas about what women are and are not, what we should and should not do. If political lesbians want to opt out of this struggle entirely I can’t blame them. It’s difficult and confusing and why can’t we just be human and leave it at that??

Because we came in on the middle of the story. We have to play the hand we’ve been dealt. I have two sons who I am going to hold to higher standards than their peers will. No one ever said doing that with academics or manners was a waste of time.

And I’m damn sure not going to do nothing.

As a kid I was part of the Great Bussing Experiment, where inner city kids were bused out to the suburbs in an attempt to, among other things, accustom us kids to people who were different from us.

And it seems to have worked, at least for me. I score low on racial bias and, because of where I grew up, breathe a sigh of relief when I see some darker faces in a crowd. Being an urban Yankee in the South is weird sometimes.

I’m not immune to the other conditioning I receive but I’m conscious of it as an issue. My mother is a closeted racist and I think quite a bit of progress was made between her generation and mine.

Paintings Of Mothers Mother And Daughter Oil Paintings Victorian Mother Amp Daughter At

Then the female humans got to be people too, and they all lived happily ever after!

And our only alternative is to not try. We have to do something more than nothing. Sorry, straight women, you’re never going to figure out why sex is unsatisfying or how to identify men who aren’t total assholes, because we’re just going to send them all to an island and never speak of them again.

Our only alternative is to excuse ourselves from the fight which, to me, is disrespectful to the women who fought and died so we could read well enough to decide it’s not worth doing.

I also read something a while back that I keep turning over in my mind because it’s so weird. About how semen is a hypnotic agent and women who are exposed to it regularly are docile and controllable. How the Y chromosome is defective and those who carry it are barely better than beasts. How every man is a powder keg of testosterone waiting for his opportunity to rape.

And it read almost exactly like what MRAs write about women. It’s easier to write those off because I am one. I can simply ask myself if X is true or not. It’s harder to wave away screeds about the evils of men because I have seen them do things I couldn’t understand. I have known many who felt no qualms about their right to view as many naked women as possible. I have known a few who did awful things.

A few who did awful things. This is key: most of the terrible crimes are committed by a few repeat offenders. Most men are not rapists, which seems to contradict the idea that they are all just waiting for the right opportunity.

At 15 I was embarrassingly swayed by male attention. This is how I found myself alone one afternoon with an 18-year-old acquaintance. We were in his attic bedroom and no one else was home. He was persistent about touching me and it didn’t occur to me until much later how badly this could have gone.

Jack The Ripper

The famous ones are not a good representative sample!

But when he reached the edge of my experience he stopped without my saying a word. He sent my confused teen self home, and never pressured me for anything more.

A very long story and 17 years later, I married that boy. He’s a sexual abuse survivor too and we discuss this kind of thing quite a bit.

Men’s vanity and insecurity have crippled humanity by crushing the spirit of half our population. As women and leaders we must do better. Men should be held accountable so that one rapist doesn’t have the opportunity to spoil the well for everyone. As a counterpoint to teaching girls to speak up, we must teach boys to listen.

And hey, if entire subcultures in this country can insulate their children from all of science, I feel like I have some hope of teaching my son that women are people.