That Time I Compared Santa to Chocolate

  Photo by Pauline Campos

My sink is full of dirty dishes. The house is not Santa Spotless as is my usual. I have tons of gifts still to send out and even more missing from under my tree. I lost our magic Santa key so I told the child I texted Santa the code to the lockbox we save for dog sitter. I didn't bake one christmas cookie. I only sent out 15 christmas cards. My usual is 50. It's hard work dragging your ass out of bed when there's no other place you'd rather be, what with missing friends and autoimmune hell running the show.( I got an answer, by the way: psoriasis. The rest of that story will have to wait for another post another day.) But it's work that must be done when you're not the star of a one woman show. And my costars demand Christmas cheer and holiday magic. This is good, because I am doing Christmas even though I'd rather be binge watching bad movies and eating too much ice cream. Pretty sure that depressive, self-indulgent luxury is one every person who agrees to cohabitation loses as soon as Yours  becomes Ours. I'm even telling myself the cluttered mess of a house and the dirty dishes are progress because Instead of staying up until 4 am to scrub the house clean just so I could say I did,  I'm leaving them as they are.

Photo by Pauline Campos

My plans include wrapping a forgotten gift, writing a tiny goodbye note from her Christmas elf in sparkly gel pen in teeny tiny writing, and climbing into bed with The Husband and the child who was too excited to sleep, because Obviously Mom, Who Can Sleep On A Night Like This? She can, Obviously and Thankyouverymuch, tucked up between heartbeats that sandwich her own. Its the only sound loud enough, I think, to soothe her into an instant dream.

Photo by Pauline Campos

The dishes can wait. I've got sleepy hugs waiting. This is progress. Santa, like chocolate, understands.

Catching in the Rye (in Spanglish)

If The Catcher in the Rye had a sequel based on a Spanglish-speaking Mexican-American homeschooling, allergic to everything, eating-disordered writer mama of one, I’d be a happy girl. Because then, at least, I could just hand people a copy of the book when they ask how I’m doing.

‘Fine?” That’s usually a lie.

“My cat just got ran over, thanks for asking,” could possibly be the truth, but when people ask other people how they are doing, no one really expects an honest answer if honesty means replying with anything other than “fine.” Except  I don’t have a cat. I do have three dogs, though. And a kid. And two websites and an agent and a manuscript sitting in a file because I don’t have a platform big enough to stand on and wonder if I ever will.

This isn’t a Poor Me post. Don’t get your violins out, folks. This is a Truth post; one in which I step out behind the bullshit and tell you that fine is a lie and that I miss my nonexistent cat because I am, in short, a fraud. Not the Push Up Bra and Spanx Coming Off On the Third Date kind of fraud, mind you, but the Holden Caulfield kind in which I find myself standing in the middle of the high school cafeteria, holding my lunch tray, not sure where to sit because I have no idea where I really belong.

I preach body pride and self-acceptance because for some of us, we can't do the work required to care for ourselves if we don't value ourselves. I encourage you to find your inner chingona, redefine your path on your own terms and to celebrate the hell out of her because no one else is going to do it for you. I say thing like Love Yourself As You Are NOW and Our Daughters are Counting on Us to Get (and Keep) Our Shit Together (And I mean them...for you). I want to mean them for me, too, and I figured that if I shouted it long enough and often enough from my soapbox that I’d start to buy my own bullshit, but that hasn’t happened yet.

That, my friends, pisses me off.

I want to connect and inspire and feel validated for what I say and what I do and what I am hoping to become and I see so many others doing exactly that while I sit back and cheer them on, not sure what I’m doing wrong to keep missing the boat or if the boat’s going to bother coming back to the dock again to give me another chance. I want to speak to women on the same journey and let them know it’s okay to be where we are right now as long as we keep trying because that’s what matters. I want to organize inspiring workshops and a regular conference for women to focus on fixing the mess inside of our own heads because our kids aren’t going to believe in their own self worth if they constantly see us tear ourselves down.

It’s the old airplane analogy: No point in passing out from oxygen deprivation while trying to get our kid’s mask on first if the cabin depressurizes. The only way we can truly be effective role models is if we fight every maternal instinct and put ourselves first for fucking once. Once our heads are clearing from the oxygen-deprived fog can we be there to ensure our children are breathing, safe, and secure in the knowledge that Mommy has her shit together. And this Mommy is busy focusing on raising a future self-respecting bitch who (I hope I hope I hope) will never second guess putting her happiness before society's complex.

Maybe, I think, the boat is on to me. The boat knows I’m a fraud and frauds are not allowed on board. Only passengers who are truly at ease in their own skin who don’t look for and rely on approval and validation outside of themselves are allowed on this boat. I’m not there yet. I used to be. I will be again. But right here, right now, I’m a self-destructive mess who’s best bet it is to just let it all hang out because it’s the truth and it needs to be said.

I don’t have The Answers. I’m not standing at the Finish Line waving the Official Flag of Self-Acceptance because I haven’t run my own race yet. What I do have is a burning desire to share the crazy idea that it’s okay to be a fucking mess. It’s okay to have bad days and worse days and throw a party on the good days because they are so very worthy of celebrating. It’s okay to not love yourself (but want to) yet and it’s okay to talk about the bad in public because if we don’t then no one else will and the world will just continue to assume that “Fine” is the only acceptable answer to be given when they ask how we’re doing and that’s really just a giant disservice for those of us who need to know it’s okay to celebrate The Journey because The Destination is just a little too far away right now.

I’m not fine. In fact, I’m a royal fucking mess. My ADHD and anxiety are triggering my seven-year-old’s anxiety into fodder for her therapy appointments which happens to fall under the Mexicans Don’t Talk About That Sort of Thing category because it’s uncomfortable and much easier to sweep under the rug with the rest of our emotional baggage (like  the whispers about how pregnant the bride really was at the last wedding we went to while we collectively pretended to believe she wasn’t because it matters even though it really shouldn’t). It’s why I told The Husband I wanted yellow gold when he asked what kind of ring I would like when he was fishing for engagement ring hints because that’s what my family wore. It took me ten years to admit I hated yellow gold and really wanted platinum because that shit doesn’t work for me anymore, either.

Away with the rug. Let the dirt fly. And when the dust settles, I’ll still be standing here holding my lunch tray because I’m not sure where to sit because no matter where I choose, I feel like everyone else will judge me for my choice even though none of that should matter. But it does.

And I hate that.

I most decidedly do NOT have my shit together. You need to know that. It’s okay to be a royal fucking mess. You need to know that, too.  I miss my imaginary cat and I have very real cellulite and I have a sweet tooth and a closet eating habit. I don't sleep enough and I am never on time unless a deadline and a paycheck is involved (or someone else is driving the bus.) My yoga mat is my zen place and I'm working my way back to being brave enough to step into the raging quiet inside my head (I'm almost there). I make sad things funny and funny things funnier because that’s how I deal.

I'm almost 37 years old and sans The Husband and the child, the words you see and the words you hear could be the same words I wrote when I was seven, 17, and 27.

All of this is today’s truth.

Now tell me…

How are you doing?

Old Words Made New: And Then There was One

I think it goes without saying that I'm a bit behind. Life can get in the way sometimes and when that happens, all bet are off. These are the times when the words I write for a paycheck take precedence over the ones I write in the name of building a fucking platform without a solid set of directions because subjectivity is A Thing to clear my head so I can sleep. A lot has happened since I posted last. No book deals. No agents fighting over me and my mad writing skillz. But I have launched two etsy shops, a podcast, and can now officially cross Be Mentioned in a Tweet with Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez by Rick Najera off of my bucket list. I'll fill you in on the specifics about the etsy shops and the podcast on Wednesday. For now, I'll just remind you about the Me & Robert Rodriguez in the same 140.

 

 

See? It did sound just as badass the second time around. I kinda figure it would.

For now, though, I'm going to focus on I'm concentrating on waiting out an allergic reaction and passing the time by creating a Pinterest board for my writing clips. So much as changed and so much has stayed the same. And Then There was One was written in December of 2012.

 

***

I’m selling baby clothes. I guess I didn’t think writing up ads for cloth diapers and Gymboree jumpers was going to be as depressing as it’s turning out to be, but it is. I’m not just selling clothes. I’m putting prices on memories and letting go of hope. I’m the oldest of five. The Husband is the youngest of four.

Eliana wasn’t supposed to be an only.

For Sale
* Honest baby tee 12-18 mths
* George newborn white dress worn 1x after baptism 0-3 mth, plain white diaper cover included. 
* Old navy blue striped skirt 18-24 mth 
* Gender neutral newborn sleeper (baby) 0-3 mth
* Pink striped hooded dress 18-24 mth (plain pink diaper cover incuded)
* Old navy burgundy dress pink collar 18-24 mth 
* Pink tutu up to 12 mth (used once for 6 mth photo session & Halloween) 
* Vincent size pink frog shoe sz 16 euro 
* U of m lined windbreaker 18 mths – $6
I start with the basics. Photograph each piece. List the size and write a brief description. Calculate a fair price that allows for people to talk me down a bit and feel like they got a deal. I try to ignore the images in my mind with each item I put in the box marked “baby items for sale.” I remember almost all of it. And my mind took more photos than I realized.
This sleeper she wore when I was hospitalized the third time for severe mastitis in her first six weeks. I’ve got a photo of her on my chest, head held up, nurses stunned she could already do that. I list it for $2.
* Dress my Godmother brought back from one of her trips to Puerto Escondido in Mexico. Not for sale.
 * Children’s place adjustable waist 18 mth ruffle jeans – $5
* Brown old navy winter baby boots 6-12 mths
* Matching Hawaiian  hat and onsie set (worn once for an island themed wedding right after she was born) $5
* Carter white spring sweater 9 mths (used for Easter & other special occasions, no stains) -$3
* Pink sweater, newborn, knitted for me by my grandmother who never learned to speak English & wanted my mother to name me Erika because the woman on the soap opera she couldn’t understand was glamorous & feisty, not for sale
* The yellow one she made me, not for sale
* 6-9 mth jeans with white dog embroidery. Not sure of brand. Perfect condition $2
* See Kai run black sandals sz 8-$10
* Open back summer dress top & ruffled diaper cover, white, no stains. Sz 3-6 mth (I should know when she wore this but maybe I shouldn’t. Dad died when she was 5 mths old. I’ll set this one in the maybe pile) Oh wait…never mind. We sold that one this afternoon.
* 1 Carter’s white newborn onsie. Still white. I promise this means we forgot to put this one on her and not that I bubble wrapped her through babyhood. 50 cents
* Make that 2 Carter’s unstained white newborn onsies for 50 cents each. 
* More handmade baby clothes. One for me by Guela. A few for baby by my sisters ex-mother-in-law. One outfit worn for hospital pics. None is for sale.
 * Newborn tee, super tiny, no sz, maybe hospital issued. Free with anything else you buy
* Gerber onsie, 0-3 mths, still white. I’m starting to wonder what small miracle allowed this to happen. She wore this one. I know she did. And yet I can’t keep a white t shirt stain free for longer than it takes me to cut the store tag off. I now have a complex.
* Random but not random pink flowered newborn summer romper & diaper cover. I don’t know when she wore this & that bothers me. But I need to put this one away for her with that little pile of memories to pass down one day
* 3-6 mth  cotton pants & matching hat. We’re keeping the shirt on the dog stuffed animal we made as a keepsake. Her name’s on it. I’m making myself be practical. Daffy never wore pants so I’m not allowing myself to keep those. See? Progress.
* Pink sweater for me by Guela. I see the photos of me wearing this in my mind. I see the ones of my child in the frames. Not for sale.
* 0-3 mth gender neutral sleeveless onsie. White. Stain free. I should maybe start going to church regularly again.
* 3 mth gender neutral white sleeper. I know I won’t get up in time for the Sunday morning mass. But Saturday at 5 pm is totally doable. Maybe. Fine. We all know I’m not going and spending the entire mass explaining to Buttercup that church and Easter egg hunts are not synonymous or the explicit difference between being Catholic and Mexican-Catholic…because there is.
* Gender neutral onsies of various sizing & hospital issued baby tee. All as a package. Now questioning why white is such a popular color for clothing meant for adorable little beings who live to eat, sleep, poop, & spit up.
* Pink frog face pre walkers (not in original packaging) sz 17 (euro)
* My baptismal bonnet. Wow.
* 12 mth turquoise tee. My dog Walks all over me.
You’ll buy it from us for your firstborn, still convinced your friends with older kids are all heartless bastards. *Your* dog will not get demoted. There will be 2 walks per day, trips to the dog park to socialize, & that Christmas stocking Will Get filled. The walk…right…. After you find something you can wear out of the house that doesn’t have spit up on it, the baby has woken from her nap, and you change because she spit up on you again. You give up & barely register the dog didn’t even get excited when you jingled the collar while there was still hope. But you tried. And your dog still loves you. I promise.
* Robeez pink pre walkers sz 0-6 mths. Loved this brand. You totally will too. You’re welcome.
There.
All listed and pretty on the private Facebook group saving me the headache of dealing with a garage sale.
And then The Husband comes home from work with news. We are being transferred to Maine for his job and it’s going to happen pretty quickly. It’s time to repack. And maybe I can buy enough gas to get us from Arizona to Maine after I sell the last seven bins full of the dreams.

 

Heart Pops (Revisited)

May 2011  

Let’s tell each other one thing that we love about the other person before we go to sleep.

Okay, Mama.

I’ll go first. I love the way your whole face lights up when you smile.

Oh, Mama. That’s sweet…And I love when you give me strawberries.

***

Where did I come from?

A wish on a star.

I’m happy you wished me.

Me too, baby. Thank you for being my wish.

Thank you for being my mom.

***

Mama?

Yes,  baby?

I love you so much it makes my heart pop.

You make my heart pop, too.

***

Mama, can I…?

No.

Why?

Because.

No, Mama. You have to give me a reason. “Because” isn’t a reason.

It isn’t a reason when you say “because.” But I’m a mom. So that makes it a reason.

Well that isn’t exactly fair.

***

Happy birthday, Mama. I’m going to hug you now. Because sometimes I just want to hug you because I love you so much. Okay?

***

And my heart pops just a little bit more.

The #MexicaninMaine is currently the #MexicaninMichigan, which, by the way, is not a big deal at all. We've got family to visit and friends to see and at the end of the week, we've got 17 hours between us and home. I'm obviously behind on everthing right now -- hence, the archive blog share --  because this is my first "vacation" since all of this writing stuff I do graduated from Hobby to J-O-B. The short story is this: I can run in circles trying to "get ahead" and go insane, or I can plug away, a little each day (while on vacation because that's how it  goes) and pat myself on the back for making it through another day.

I choose option B.

NEDA Awareness Week: Let's Talk Ideas

It's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and because I'm on a roll this week with the Not Funny Words on the Blog theme (trigger warning on that one, y'all) I'm back and I'm here to tell more stories. Maybe they are new to you. Maybe they aren't. If you have been reading Aspiring Mama for more than, say, the last four weeks, (or following me on twitter, instagram, Facebook, or google +) chances are you've seen at least one update pertaining to body image or self image. Trust me when I say that every time I talk up self-worth, the motivation stems from my own internal dialogue and the constant effort it takes to talk myself down from the very slippery slope that separates a bad day from a full-fledged bulimic slide. I'm including the full text of one post and links to previous posts relating to eating disorder issues here, here, here that may speak to you or to someone you know.

This year's NEDA theme for the week is I Had No Idea.

Well, now you do. So let's keep the conversation going, shall we?

 

 On Random Thoughts & Raising Girls

Because raising girls is hard, y'all. Consider your own childhood the prequel.

 

* I once worked in a strip club as a (fully clothed) waitress. While there, I learned that most of the dancers making the big bucks only pretended to get drunk on the $12 mocktail containing only cranberry & orange juice because it made the guys paying for the drink feel like he was going to get somewhere, that the two-and-a-half minute average pole dance on stage was just the right amount of time to scan the crowd for the sucker who would be an easy mark for the $20 lap dance, and that lap dance time was exactly when they composed their grocery lists in their heads because doing the same old thing gets tedious, ya know?

Other highlights included the realization that I could make $300 in tips just from charging $12 for a cup of fruit juice with a tiny umbrella in it and that sometimes the naked girls dancing got pissy if the clothed ones serving drinks got more attention than they did. But the best lesson of all was that sometimes it’s the stereotype exploiting itself that has the upper hand. No one expects to be outwitted by the chick shaking her boobs in the face of a man who isn’t aware he was marked as prey the moment he handed his baseball cap to the bodyguard. It isn’t, after all, just about shaking what your mama gave you. It’s about knowing how to use it.

* I’m Catholic with an asterix, thereby indicating a footnote in tiny print at the bottom of the page. In the interest of time, I’ll just get to the point and tell you that I have always described myself as Mexican-Catholic because it’s exactly not the same as Catholic Catholic. Most Mexican-Catholics that I know are first and second-generation Americans, believe in God and make the sign of the cross whenever an ambulance passes by or they drive by a cemetery, and only go to church for Easter, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and First Communions. We grew up saying the Our Father in Spanish but have probably forgotten most of it by now, truly believe in God and Heaven and that our deceased loved ones will come to watch over us even if we don’t celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, and roll our eyes skyward while forcing ourselves to remain silent when our elder Tias and Tios start going on about things like gays and black people and how white people don’t know how to raise their children while they themselves are preparing a bottle of Pepsi for the four-year-old sitting in the stroller in nothing but a diaper.

We drive past a church on the way to school every day. We’ve only been inside four time in the four years we have been in Tucson. And without being told, Buttercup knows that the day we go to church is the day she gets to wear a pretty dress and hunt for Easter eggs in the courtyard.

* I cried when the ultrasound tech told me I was having a girl. This is not an exaggeration. I had been hoping and praying for a boy and not because of the reasons you might think. Cultural chauvinism and machismo had nothing to do with my tears. Instead, I was bawling while The Husband tried not to laugh too loud and the tech holding the wand on the goop on my bump stood there, silent and utterly confused. But she’s perfectly healthy, she eventually managed to say because It’s a Girl wasn’t usually followed by tears cried by a nearly hysterical pregnant woman who seemed perfectly sane when she had walked in for her ultrasound.

It’s not that, I sobbed. It’s just that…she’s going to eventually turn into a bitchy teenager who hates me and drives me to the closest wine bottle with a bendy straw. I barely made it through my teens the first time.

That’s when The Husband jumped in with The Mother’s Curse and Payback’s a bitch and I just nodded, wondering if maybe God was, in His own Divine Way, giving me the finger.

* I am a body image/healthy self-image/happiness activist who is and most likely always will be broken. I am not standing here looking down from my soapbox telling you that the three keys to happiness and life’s successes are (insert bullshit here). Instead, I am a mostly no-longer-practicing-eating-disordered-behavior-mother-to-a-five-year-old-daughter and I love her with all of my soul. I am imperfect and vain about my eyes, my lips, my curves. I am self-conscious about the size of my ass and always sucking in the muffin top. I tell my daughter that we eat and exercise to be healthy and strong and that our bodies perfect and made exactly as they are meant to be and that what other people think isn’t of any importance, not now and not ever. I am the mother who corrects strangers when they call her big because she stands taller than most kids her age because I stood taller than most kids my age because that word got stuck in my head and manifested itself into bulimia, and I’ll be damned if history is going to repeat itself. So I am the mother who smiles and says Why yes, she is tall for her age, isn’t she? And then I change the subject and wonder how much good I’m actually doing.

That’s when I remind myself that I’m trying. And all I can do is to put the oxygen mask on myself first before taking the time to assist any children or elderly people who may need help with their own. To make a difference for her and anyone else on this analogical airplane inside of my head, I need to take care of me first.

Learning to Shout: In Which We Discuss The Triggers

I need to stop you before you start because if I don't, I'm leading you into a landmine without warning. What you are about to read (or quietly click away from should you decide that is best) is written in response to a news story about two kindergartners caught "having sex" in a school bathroom. If that sentence alone was triggering for you, please be kind to yourself and don't read any further. What I share was difficult to write if I stop to take into consideration the years it took to get to the point where just writing it seemed normal. I'm sure it's as difficult to read.

Just do me a favor, will ya? If we meet at a conference or speaking engagement and you want to thank me for the words you see, please know that my 6-year-old travels with me. We can talk and hug and sing Kumbaya, but just make sure it's just me first, okay?

 

I’m five. At last I think I am. A little boy I know is my hide-and-seek partner and we run off for one of our usual hiding spots. Our families are close, but it's the kind of closeness that makes grown-ups realize that it's our friends we get to choose. So we rationalize that the lack of actual blood relation makes it less bad to touch each other just because it feels good. We’re too young to feel guilty about it and we never talk about the fact that we both somehow know it’s supposed to be a secret because I’m not sure we understand why.

Sometimes I wonder how we learned this game. Today I just wonder how we are supposed to explain where are hands are when we are caught. Later I wonder only briefly about the twin bed being pushed against the wall, eliminating the hiding place. Much later, I wonder how much may have been avoided had therapy been an accepted part of dealing with obviously oversexed children who couldn’t explain how they got that way.

I'm terrified. I want nothing more than to fix the misstep before this one and the one before that until I can breathe again after having wiped the slate clean of any reason to be ashamed. I want to feel the relief I felt knowing that nothing more would come of the moment my mother and doctor stopped whispering about why I had jumped on to the exam table, laid on my back and spread my legs wide open for a rash he needed to look at on my bottom. I wasn't supposed to have done that, you know. I don't remember why but I do remember the slowing of my heartbeat and the sudden ability to breathe normally after overcompensating on the kindergarten antics to distract the doctor as I flipped onto my tummy. I giggled. I made jokes. I felt the doctor let the question in his mind sweep itself away.

And then I felt safe.

I never ask if my parents were told and they never bring it up if they were. I don’t connect the less frequent joint weekends because I'm a kid and I'm not ready to give up my presents from Santa yet. We see each other at birthday parties for friends and cousins and cousins of friends and here we are at another one.

I am wearing a blue dress that I love but itches my skin on the inside and white tights and a pair of shiny, black Mary Janes. My kinky hair, which falls midway down my back when wet, has been arranged into two braids, each hanging down from above my ears. There are balloons to sit on and pop for a prize and piñatas and cake and an the boy I now and and older boy I don't. We walk to an upstairs bedroom where I somehow understand I am to lie back on a table and let them do things I can’t remember exactly except for the older boy being on top of me because my mind learned to disconnect from my body long before I learned my ABC’s.

Magically, we are downstairs again and no one asks any of us where we were or what we were doing because there is no reason to. Nor is there any reason to blame any of the adults present for missing what isn't obvious at all no matter how so it may seem to the opinionated outsider. Every adult and every child present was on familiar territory and no one ever had to ask where the bathroom was because we already knew. Another day. Another boy. A cousin, I think, maybe just a bit older than I am. It's hot outside so we are inside, playing in the cool dark of the basement while my mother does housework upstairs and plays with my little sisters. My memory is choppy and I only recall the cold feeling of the concrete floor on my back and him on top and just as quickly, we are pulling up our shorts and my mother is calling our names and it's time for peanut butter sandwiches. He never comes over to play with me again. 

My daughter -- she's six -- and she's the Because to my Why. When she was born I was reviewing car seats and blinged-out pacifiers on a blog I don't bother including on my resume. The words I share for me I share because of her. Because she thinks horses have to get married to have babies together and because she thinks little boys and girls used to be wishes sitting on stars until their moms and dads wished them true. When a little boy she is friends with was kicked in the crotch by his sister, she told me with all the certainty in the world that her friend -- the boy -- had just been kicked in the vagina. It's because of my daughter and her innocence that I came to realize how truly fucked up my own childhood was. I simply should not have known the things I did at her age. And neither should the boys I was with. But we did, and we aren't the only ones.

It's not a pretty topic, is it? Hypersexual children and peer sexual abuse  are words laced with implied guilt on the part of the adult who was supposed to be in charge. They point the finger away from the problem instead of directing us to it. There's shame for the children and shame for the adults and sometimes it's just easier to hope the kids forget and sweep that nasty little set of memories under the rug. It's easy enough when these things happen amongst family and friends.

But what happens if two five-year-olds are caught "having sex" in the class bathroom by their kindergarten teacher? And what happens if the teacher, Kathy Mascio, reports it, not stopping to think of how doing so will reflect on her own abilities as a teacher? It's easier and more comfortable for us to point the blame and shift the focus than it is to think about a little boy and a little girl with at least a general understanding of how sex actually works.

None of us know exactly what the children were doing at the time their teacher found them, but we do know that the teacher immediately went to her principal who then contacted authorities because we all know that was the right thing to do. Now she's in danger of losing her job and that seems to be the focus of almost every news story I've read since yesterday  (and that includes the comments). It's all What she didn't do and should have done are what the media focuses on because we are not emotionally ready to think about our children as sexual beings because they shouldn't be  -- not yet.

While experts are weighing in on the situation with their thoughts, no one can provide anything more educated than a guess about what actually happened in that bathroom. All anyone knows for sure is that the naked kindergartners told their teacher they had been having sex when they were discovered. Whether that means they simply looked at each other or if physical contact occurred, we don't know, but we'd sure as hell like to know what exactly in these children's' lives that sparked the classroom incident. Somewhere, somehow, these children were exposed. Why isn't that the focus?

Information is not going to move quickly. The two children involved are very obviously minors and are most likely in individual therapy to figure out what did happen, and how to help them heal. Hyper-sexual children and peer sexual abuse are not topics we often see in the headlines, and uncomfortable or not, it's time we stop whispering when we should be shouting.

Memories, wishes, & assholes

 

We've lived in this house since May of 2013. We aren't even close to being  completely organized. Our basement is a mess of boxes and garbage bags full of out of season clothing and stuffed animals Eliana has outgrown. If we're missing anything from our last move (the fifth in four years), we wouldn't know it.

Our old landlord called yesterday to let us know we had left a box behind and was kind enough to meet The Husband to hand it off yesterday. Inside, we found memories we didn't realize were missing.

There's one of me at 21. The  Boyfriend that eventually became The Husband had whisked me away for our first romantic weekend getaway to Mackinac Island. Truth? Yes, it was a weave and no, he didn't know it yet. When the truth eventually came out, he was visibly relieved. Turns out the tracks connecting the weave to my scalp had left a lot of unanswered questions in those wild with abandon moments during which he ran his fingers through my hair.

Monkey toes.

She was so tiny when she was born. Long little limbs. The longest fingers and toes I have ever seen on a newborn attached to the daintiest pudge-free baby feet ever to have existed. She was six pounds and 21 inches with a perfectly round head that made everyone who saw her assume she was a c-section (she wasn't).

I remember looking at this picture when I first saw the proof. It took a minute to realize that my baby's ankle was positioned just above my arm and her toes stretched far below.

"We've given birth to a monkey, I think."

And the nickname stuck.

 

My mother's parents were killed in a car accident on their way back from a trip to Mexico when I was 10-months-old. My grandfather had been a native of Guadalajara (which, I guess, explains my hair), and my grandmother had been American-born but raised, for part of her childhood, in northern Mexico. My mother  was supposed to have gone on that trip with her parents but had decided at the last minute to stay home. I was just baby; too young to leave with family.

At 19, my mother buried her parents.

I lived in my paternal grandparents' home in Detroit for the first three years of my life with my own mother and father. My mom likes to tell the stories like how my Guelo was feeding me beans and rice at six-months-old and how I called my Guela "Mom" and called my mother "Dorothy." I remember going to Bingo with Guela and I remember translating an entire conversation between my grandmother and a postal worker dropping off a package while home alone with her one afternoon.

My grandmother died when I was six, leaving my sisters and me with one grandparent. He was  just over  five-feet-tall and was a big, round belly. In my entire memory, he is retired, always balding, with sharp, hazel-green eyes. His voice is gruff, his English choppy and so heavily accented it's impossible to understand. He commands respect and once drove an old station wagon and had a dog he called Come Cuando Hay which literally means "Eats When There Is." Every Sunday we ate dinner at Tia and Tio's house and every Sunday, Guelo left with a bag of bones and meat scraps and leftover beans and arroz. That's when Come Cuando Hay could eat because there was.

Guelo called us his cabronas. His little assholes. To me, that's just proof that anything in Spanish can be made into a term of endearment if said with love and a smile.

Andale, mis hermosas cabronitas.

Come on over here, my beautiful little assholes.

And there it was.

Love and a smile.

The Stupid Sister

Can I call your sister stupid? No? Does that bother you? I'm not sure why, seeing as how you don't even like your her. You tell anyone who will listen and rarely go home for holidays. What? What was that? Oh, so you think your sister is stupid? So what's the problem? Why is it that, even if you agree wholeheartedly with my sentiments, that it seems somehow inappropriate for anyone other than yourself to comment on the obvious lack of intellect with which your loved ones were gifted?

You're mumbling. I didn't quite catch that? Oh, you don't know why? That's just the way it is? You don't take too kindly to others doing the name calling? She's your family, not mine? I can think it but I'd better not say it?

Okay then. I'll play nice. But turnabout is fair play, my friend. I'll respect your right and your family and keep my jokes to myself if you can stop being an idiot about a teensy weensy little issue I happen to be dealing with, myself. I have to admit that I'm even embarrassed to be bringing it up, but I guess it's better to get it all out in the open, right?

I'm not trying to be overly sensitive. But you know about the bulimia and the body image issues and the whole body image cheer-leading train I've jumped on, right? I'm not here just to blow sunshine up other people's asses, my friend. I'm here to help me by helping others because that, in that Circle of Life Kind of Way, helps me continue to help because that's usually how this shit works; Yin & Yang and all that jazz.

So when I see careless social media updates making light of eating disorders, even if they aren't meant to hurt my feelings because you'd never dream of doing that, I get a bit pissy. And then I get pissy that your words got under my skin because if I'd never stuck my fingers down my throat to let the feelings I couldn't deal with just fucking escape already, I'd probably be laughing with you and everyone else who doesn't get it. I'm jealous that you don't understand and can laugh.

I'm mad that I do and I can't.

I'm not 'bulimic'. I'm a 'conscientious recycler of edible organic material.' -- says Nobody In Particular.

I had to read that twice to make sure I understood it. Then I got mad. And even madder still when I realized I wanted to ask you if you ever actually had been bulimic because if you are or were or were planning on starting tonight, then, in a darkly comedic and self-deprecating kind of way, your joke would be funny. It would be...

...acceptable.

Can you maybe follow up with a disclaimer? No...actually it's probably better that you don't. I'm not sure how either answer would make me feel. If you made the joke because Bulimia is your stupid sister, I will smile and laugh with you.

Secret Hand Shake In The Club.

If Bulimia isn't even a distant cousin, I'm happy for you for not ever having dealt with the emotional hell that comes with internalizing everything to the point of food and self becoming the enemy. But I'm also pissed because that means you called my stupid sister stupid.

Even if she is.

 

Pretty as a Princess

 

A random stranger wished my daughter luck today. What she was really saying as she made eye contact with my five-year-old instead of meeting my eyes was that she was sorry my daughter had the misfortune to be born to me instead of someone else.

Maybe a nice lady with a sense of humor who understood the nuances of a little girl’s imagination and forgave little indiscretions like purposefully ignoring strangers compliments on her beautiful curls or comments about whatever adorable princess outfit she has decided to wear out of the house on that particular day. But good luck is apparently needed and will be offered, no qualms about the judgement on my mothering that is handed along with it, because she was born to me and had the gall to be rude and ignore my fourth reminder that day that if she’s going to wear costumes in public, little old ladies are going to gush because that’s just the way things go.

What a pretty princess!

I’m NOT a princess. (Hands on hips.) I’m just pretending.

Oh. You are TOO a princess and with such beautiful curls.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

She is bored with the concept of having to explain to adults who should know better that she isn’t really royalty from an animated movie. She isn’t really a superhero ballerina in a tutu with a cape and cowboy boots. She’s just is who she is and that happens to be a little girl who really doesn’t give a flying fuck if you like her outfit or not because she chose to wear what she has on today because it makes her happy and that happy is being drained every time she has to explain to you peasants that she’s not really a princess but a five-year-old with an imagination and a sense of self so strong I applaud it just as much as I cry thinking about the hell I’m in for when she becomes a teenager.

So I take a deep breath to remind myself that I want to not beat this spirit out of her. To remind myself that I need to help focus her energies to recognize that there comes responsibility with stepping out into the public eye as a princess. Or a superhero. Or a superhero princess in a cape with a crown and mismatched socks and a wand to freeze the bad guys. Because a sense of self that strong, one in which the opinion of others has no bearing on what I decide to wear or how I act in certain situations or how I feel, is something I am still working daily to attain.

I’m jealous of her confidence because it’s the confidence that allows her to not care what you think now that makes me believe will help her avoid the path I took and the daily battle I fight every time I look in the mirror when she’s older. And, as her mother, I’m very aware that I can celebrate her confidence only if I’m making sure that respect for herself, her elders, and sweet strangers giving compliments are part of the package. Without respect and kindness, confidence is easily confused as just plain rude.

It’s my job to make sure she is as strong and self-assured as she is polite and understanding that a simple thank you will suffice. We’ve have this conversation countless times. But my child is bull-headed. While she may understand that she may stand out in public for her princess attire and cowboy boots, she’s also not sure why anyone else cares what she is wearing and feels the need to start up a conversation about it. This is when I explain that the lady at Walgreens doesn’t know that every single person she encountered today has tried having the exact same conversation with her and that even if she is bored with it, she is the one who made the choice to not blend in and must therefore learn to be patient and polite.

She rolls her eyes. I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, and explain to a five-year-old who is perfectly aware the she is being rude (again) that she is being rude (again).

Baby, remember what we talked about with Daddy? That when you wear your fun outfits, nice strangers are going to want to tell you how cute you look as a princess?

Yes.(She mumbles because it’s the fourth time today she’s heard this.)

And remember how we said if you are going to argue with every stranger that calls you a princess by telling them that are you not a princess when you are dressed like one that it’s just back to the regular clothes in your closet until you can learn to just smile and nod because arguing with nice old ladies is rude, baby?

Yes. (She mumbles again because she doesn’t really want to be bothered with having to apologize to this woman who is now openly staring at me and my defiant little girl who surpassed brat and became bitch long before I was ready for it. That’s my fault. The not being ready, I mean. There are mirrors. I own a few.)

I’ve been told often how I cloned myself when I gave birth. I use to tell people cloning probably would have been less painful, but then I forget that labor was temporary. This woman judging me for reprimanding my free-spirited child for countless missteps and purposeful rudeness and the failure to respect her elders by simply nodding and smiling and acknowledging their kindnesses…this is not. I somehow know, standing there at the Walgreens pharmacy that this woman is going to go home and tell her husband or her kids or her girlfriend and maybe all of her Facebook friends about this bitch at the store who told her five-year-old she couldn’t dress like a princess in public until she learned to mind her manners when gushed over by grandmothers and grandfathers alike.

I imagine her saying things like:

That poor kid hasn’t got a chance. She’s five. FIVE. How many five-year-olds actually say thank you for stupid shit like this. And in public, this mom makes her kid apologize to me for telling me she isn’t really a princess. Can you believe that? I mean, seriously. Kid needs all the luck she can get…

But I still haven’t gotten my prescription and that’s because the store is out of my Adderall for my severe ADHD but here’s the bottle for the Xanax to take the edge off of that anxiety. No one knows or cares — nor should they care –  that I have gone three days without my full dose of Adderall to slow my brain and calm my nerves and help me breathe and think and be. And now, I have to wait until I get back into the truck with the princess who isn’t really a princess and drive an hour back into town to the closest store that can fill my prescription so I can take a pill and wait for it to work its way into my bloodstream. First, though, I tell the woman staring at me with contempt for having the nerve to expect my daughter to have manners when she’s going out of the way to draw attention to herself, thank you very much, that my daughter is five because that’s what I was just asked.

How old is she.

And the question isn’t really a question but more of a challenge and enunciated just so to let me know that she is judging me and has no problem making it known. It’s not a question but a challenge to not bully my kid because she’s five and for fuck’s sake woman, have a heart because she’s five.

Can you please apologize to the nice lady for not saying thank you when she complimented your dress?

But m-o-o-o-o-o-m. I’m not really a prince…

Say it one more time and you can donate all of your princess outfits to little girls who aren’t lucky enough to have a trunkful of dress up clothes and would love to be called a princess just once by a kind stranger. One. More. Time.

Ok. I’m sorry, mama.

Not to me, baby. Please apologize to the lady. And please say thank you, like you should have in the first place.

Ok, mama.

She looks a the woman who is looking back at her with pity. She apologizes for her rudeness and thanks the woman for the originally ignored compliment that started this whole mess, but only because she knows she has crossed the line in the sand.

I thank my child for listening and kiss her on the head and tell her that I love her and maybe when we get home we can watch a movie together or what book did she want me to read to her tonight because all is forgiven because she is five but I’ll be damned if she’s wearing a fucking costume out the house again until she learns to smile and nod because Punky Brewster is sassy and sweet and I know this and so does everyone else who knows my child which means thanks must be given for every compliment received by those who do not.

I am old-school Mexican-American in many way. Respect your elders. Please and thank you and you are welcome and Mande instead of Que when asked a question we need repeated because mande is the polite way to say what and que is just construed as rude by the adult asking the original question. I am a coconut in many others. Brown on the outside and white on the inside. I am English dominant. I have forgotten much of the Spanish that once was my primary language. My daughter knows more Chinese than Spanish because Kai Lan is less annoying than Dora. And while I might suck at teaching her the language I once thought in, I’m not raising a little girl who doesn’t know how what manners are.

Good luck, little one.

That’s the woman’s response to my daughter as their eyes meet and I am purposefully left out of the exchange because I am the one being apologized for by a stranger to the child I bore. Because I am the one being judged for the back story she will never know.

My daughter says nothing and squeezes my hand and I have the sense that she understands that something beyond her has just happened but she’s not going to ask and I’m not going to explain. Not yet.

We leave the store, judgement boring holes into my back.

 

** This piece was originally published in October of 2012 and was also posted on Girl Body Pride.

 

Hyphenated Flower Girl

We are seated at table number 26. My sisters, our husbands, and my mother because she stopped belonging when my father died. Jarritos with Thank You for Sharing Our Day line the table at the entrance to the Grand Ballroom. Buttercup is fidgety after patiently waiting through the hour-long cocktail hour none of us were expecting. But then again, so are many of my adult family members. Formal cocktail hours aren't exactly the norm at a typical wedding. I'm figuring it's the Irish payback to the Mexicans for the four hours we all spent at the church without central air.

 

Mexican weddings are steeped in tradition with prayer and blessings and music sung by Mariachis, but they take forfuckingever.

 

 

Dinner is served immediately following the toasts and before the bride and groom share their first dance. One sister raises her voice over the music to tell another sister that there is a woman here with an ass bigger than her own and my mother asks me if I saw the woman in too many colors, a too short dress, and so much hairspray that she has somehow managed to stand out in the crowd of Mexican women. I pretend to ignore both of them because Buttercup is sitting next to me. I can only hope the woman with the big ass is seated on the other side of the room. I focus my attention on the DJ who is announcing the father/daughter dance in English so heavily accented that no one can understand him until he repeats himself in Spanish. Buttercup only hears the words father and daughter and tugs on Daddy's hand. He shushes her gently.

 

 

It's time for Tia because it's her wedding, baby, he tells her. I'll dance with you soon.

The banda music calls half the guests to the dance floor. The other half waits for the DJ to start playing music that doesn't sound like the Spanish -equivalent of the same polka song stuck on repeat. Buttercup is one of the first people on the dance floor and twirls until her little body tires, only taking breaks when she needs to rehydrate with ice-cold water.

She's beautiful, Pauline. Aye, que linda. Aren't you going to have more?

Relatives and family acquaintances I haven't seen since the last family wedding reach out to stroke Buttercup's cheek as she ducks and tries to hide herself behind my body.

She's not used to this, I explain. And we had help to have her, so...

Heads nod in understanding. I am only slightly annoyed that I had to justify the fact that The Husband and I don't have at least three more of our own running around the reception hall.

Buttercup escapes to the dance floor once again. This time she takes me and three of my four sisters with her. We move with the crowd, sometimes inadvertently brushing elbows with strangers, other times bumping into relatives removed from the Christmas card list for reasons no one discusses because everyone is there for the bride and groom. Rehashing family drama is not on the agenda. I wonder briefly at the fun we are having in spite of the tension I had expected to feel while I move to the music with my daughter and laugh with my sisters. I smile to myself when I realize that I feel just as much as part of the family as I did growing up. Granted, that feeling of belonging may have been overshadowed by insecurity stemming from too much emphasis on the hyphenated part of my identity, but there's comfort in the fact that not much else has changed.

Mama, I'm tired.

Buttercup weaves her way back to table number 26. She asks to go back to the hotel room and The Husband and I quickly grab our belongings, kiss the relatives we still call family, making our way out of the Grand Ballroom. I take a Jarrito from the table on the way out.

Daddy...

Arms outstretched. He reaches down and lifts her into the air, settling her head on his shoulder.

She tells us she had fun and loved dancing and is so happy she got to dress like a princess for Padrino David's wedding when we reach the quiet of our room. Then she places her index fingers and thumbs together, showing me the heart she has formed with her fingers.

This, she tells me, is their love. Take a picture of their love, Mama.

So I do.

Time for bed, baby.

I turn off the light and she snuggles against me in the bed. This is where she will always belong.

The Me That I Am

I'm having a pretty shitty Writerly Ego day. Actually, it's kind of been a shitty Writerly Ego month, to be perfectly honest. And when I've shared this little emotional nugget with the BFF and The Husband, I've received a raised eyebrow and a "YOU HAVE A FUCKING AGENT" in response to my pity party. I get where it's coming from. I am in a position a lot of writers would kill for. I have a wonderful agent who thinks me and my writing are worth something and deserve a place on the shelves at Barnes & Noble next to writers I admire like Jenny Lawson Jill SmoklerRobin O'BryantAnna Lefler and Heather Armstrong. It seems, however, that the platform I am currently standing on may not big enough to get there. Or maybe it just feels like that because I'm a writer and us artistic types are moody and overly emotional and maybe I just need a vodka-flavored cookie. Because really? I'm pretty proud of my little platform. I bust my ass for free because writing is who I am and what I do and the writing part is actually more important than getting paid part...for my sanity, at least. The bills sitting on my desk waiting to be paid, however, would rather I stop trying to stay Not Crazy and just get a fucking job that probably wouldn't leave me the time to write for the awesome sites I contribute to.

I love sharing the funny on An Army of Ermas and Funny Not Slutty. Getting a spot on best-selling author Lissa Rankin's Owning Pink site is something I will forever be proud of. I've been published on Hippocampus Magazine and almost fell over when StoryBleed accepted the same piece for publication on their site. And then what I've got going on over here on this little ol' blog o' mine. I'm working on getting my name out there and my writing on more outlets, but these things take time. And Platforms don't build themselves overnight.

I'm by no means in the same stratosphere as the likes of Dooce or The Bloggess or Scary Mommy and that's okay with me. I'm not trying to be them. Just me. And hopefully the Me that I Am will one day be enough.

Maybe this sounds like a Poor Me post, but I don't mean it to. Instead, I wanted to let other aspiring writers out there know that the days of doubting yourself don't end the moment you sign that contract with your dream agent. And, I'm sure my published writer friends will tell me that they sure as hell don't end when a book deal is offered or the day their books were released or even the day they got their first glowing review. Because once someone Other Than You believes in your work, it's not just your ego riding on how many readers connect with that essay you got placed in that literary magazine that you love or how many hits per month your blog is getting or how much better you feel just for having taken the jumbled words out of your head and making some sense of them in a new piece you just started.

Every level of success reached is both a validation of our talents and a new reason to Freak the Fuck out, but it's a lesson in the writing life that I seem to keep having to be reminded of. Three months ago I was still waiting for the Moment All of My Dreams Would Come True and then the world turned upside down when they did because I signed with my agent. That singular moment took two years to make a reality. And you would be right of you guessed that the Freaking Out commenced after the shiny newness of my situation sunk in. It's not just me and my ego on the table anymore. It's me and my ego and my agent's time and effort and enthusiasm and Belief in What I Am and Have Yet to Become.

But if I think back, I probably went through the same little Self-Doubt Fest when I was accepted onto my college newspaper's staff and when I saw my first byline and when I was assigned to cover my first murder case at the city newspaper that hired me right out of college. And then again when I left the newspapers to freelance and when I started this blog and when I woke up this morning and my little girl told me that I'm the best mother in the world.

So maybe shitty Writerly Ego days are just part of the process and part of what makes us who -- and what -- we are. It's our literary equivalent of the trap women set for men when we ask if This Dress Makes Us Look Fat because we really only need to be reminded that in their eyes we are beautiful no matter what how that dress fits us. My platform is what it is. My ass? Probably looks horrible in that dress. But it's okay.

Because tomorrow I'm still going to write something. And someone is going to read it.

I (really) Suck at Follow Through

So this one time I interviewed an author and did an interview and hosted a giveaway for a signed copy of her book and people entered and then I totally forgot to choose a winner and put a pretty bow on the whole package? And then another time I did the exact same thing? Yeah...about that.

While I wait for word from Google about how long I have before I forget that I had laser eye surgery four years ago and push my imaginary glasses up the bridge of my nose again, I'll bide my time by announcing that Heiddi Zalamar is the incredibly lucky winner of an unigned copy of Jane Devin's powerful memoir, Elephant Girl.

Thank you all for entering and thank you, Jane, for allowing me the opportunity to share your words.

A Review: Jane Devin's Elephant Girl

I had no idea what I was getting into when I downloaded the ebook version of Elephant Girl. I only knew that I wanted to read the title I have seen repeatedly mentioned in my social media circles before I met up with its author, Jane Devin. I wanted to meet her before I actually met her and have more to offer to the conversation over lunch than "my four-year-old did the cutest thing yesterday." So I bought and read her book.

I stopped a few times. I almost didn't pick it back up. Elephant Girl is as beautifully told as it is painful to read. It's the most perfect blend of raw honesty, unique voice, human spirit and is uttterly heart-breaking. Told in three distinct voices (the unloved and unwanted child, the independent and fragile teenager, and the adult trying to make sense of it all) Devin shares the inner life she invented that helped her live through the years of trauma she endured.

Therein lies her message: No matter the scars hidden within, it is possible to endure.

I simply want to to hug her and thank her for sharing her strength with the world.

I fancy myself a memoir writer. There are stories to share that need to be brought to the surface. But I'm not brave enough yet. But because of Jane, I am that much closer to being where I need to be and discovering my own inner strength.

Jane took a few moments out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for fans of Elephant Girl. Her answers are thoughtful and, of course, thought-provoking.

 

 

Aspiring Mama: The writer in me wishes I could be as brave as you in my writing and the reader in me wants to thank you for Elephant Girl. It's so beautifully told and yet so hard to read. Can you share what the writing process was like for you?

Jane Devin: I held off on writing Elephant Girl for more than a decade. It never seemed to be the right time; I wasn't sure I had reached a place in life where there would be a satisfactory ending; and there was a time I really cringed at the things I knew some people would say. I was immobilized by these factors and the fear that getting naked by way of a memoir would leave me vulnerable to the kind of cold, raging, or shortsighted people I'd spent years trying not to attract. That may sound like a minor or egotistical thing -- like a writer afraid of criticism -- but that's really not it at all. One of the consequences of growing up in a toxic environment for me was that I thought it was normal for a long time, even though my heart said otherwise, and I kept unconsciously drawing toxic people and situations into my life. I did this for way too many years and by the time I began to learn better and seek better I had some serious baggage I was carrying and a lot of spiritual scars that weren't anywhere close to healed, as well as a new diagnosis of Aspergers, which was both stunning to me as well as a relief. I finally had some sort of answer as to why things went the way they did in my past, but I didn't yet know what difference it might make for my future.

I couldn't write this book until I was strong enough to withstand whatever consequences it might have, whether they were good, bad, or indifferent.
Actually sitting down and writing Elephant Girl was an odd, beautiful, painful, unexpected and urgent process. I wrote the book under some unusual circumstances -- sitting in a borrowed truck every day in the Starbucks parking lot of a small town. I had just completed a yearlong road trip (FindingMyAmerica.com) and really had no resources. No job, no home or car of my own. At any other time in my life, I would have scrambled to correct those deficits quickly, but I knew that if I did, I would never write a book. My focus tends to be all or nothing (which is one consequence of Aspergers) and no matter how hard I've tried, I have a difficult time with splitting my focus when it comes to my passion for writing.
So I forced myself to finish, no matter what or who or where or how. I was fortunate to have supportive friends who helped me through the roughest times -- people I will always feel indebted to and extremely grateful for -- but it was still hard. I went hungry at times and went through weeks of pain with an abscessed jaw. Sitting in a truck for 8-12 hours a day wasn't the kind of cozy, comfortable place I'd always imagined as the "room of my own." I think those hardships, though, lent themselves to the tone of the book and also gave me a sense of urgency. The first draft, 603 pages, was written in eight months.

 

Aspiring Mama: I am in awe of the level of honesty you were able to achieve in Elephant Girl. How did you overcome the barrier so many of us are afraid to cross in order to connect with your audience?
Jane Devin: My writing itself has always been a refuge to me -- a place to be honest without fear -- but I only shared the really raw parts with others sparingly before putting it all out there with Elephant Girl. I think being able to do that came on the heels of understanding how much of a choice I had when it came to allowing toxicity into my life. It may sound exceptionally naive, but I was in my 30s before I even started to grasp the elemental Dr. Suess lesson of "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".  It took another ten years or so to truly believe it and to confidently take the risk of rejection both by strangers and people I loved.

***

 

Jane has graciously offered an unsigned copy of Elephant Girl with one Aspiring Mama reader. To enter, simply do one of the following (or more for extra entries!)* Leave a comment for Jane on this blog post.

* Tweet, Facebook, Google +, or include a link to this post on your own blog. Each counts for it’s own entry, so be sure to leave me one comment letting me know what you did so I can add up points!

* Comments will be accepted through midnight, EST, on February 15.

* One winner will be selected via Random.org and will be announced here on Aspiring Mama shortly thereafter.

***

Thank you, Jane, for sharing your strength with the world.

 

 

Don't forget to follow Jane Devin on Twitter here and be sure to read her blog at www.janedevin.com.

 

Happy Chaos and Punky Power

I grew up with jelly bracelets, bright neons, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, and everybody's favorite 80's kid, Punky Brewster. Surprisingly, I've never had the chance to name a dog Brandon. I'll have to remedy that. For now, I'll just focus on the fact that my childhood hero has grown up with me into a a powerhouse of a mom with two adorable little girls, her popular Moonfrye.com site, over a million twitter followers, an eco-friendly clothing line called The Little Seed, and her role as Target's Mommy Ambassador. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not one to run out and buy the latest celebrity memoir, but when I was offered the chance to read and review Soleil's new parenting book, Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and my Perfectly Imperfect Adventures In Between, I decided my childhood dream of becoming Punky's best friend was just a blog post away from coming true. I'll keep you posted on how that works out, y'all.

Happy Chaos shares stories from Soleil's childhood (she once had Johnny Depp show up as a surprise guest to a birthday party), precious moments with her children, and perhaps most importantly,  brings us non-celebrity moms right there with Soleil when she shares how she's learning to accept that the mom she thought she was going to be is not the mom she became once her children were born. The beauty of it all is in the journey of discovery with our children.

And while not every mom can relate to a roster of celebrity BFFs or boast about directing her first film at the age of 18, reading Happy Chaos reads more like a chat over a cup of coffee with a girlfriend than anything else. Part memoir and part parenting manual, Happy Chaos reminds us to embrace the crazy that motherhood brings while taking a moment to celebrate the magic of cutting an apple sideways just to show our children the star inside.

 

***

Soleil has graciously offered a signed copy of Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between with one Aspiring Mama reader. To enter, simply do one of the following (or more for extra entries!)

* Leave a comment for Soleil on this blog post.

* Tweet, Facebook, Google +, or include a link to this post on your own blog. Each counts for it's own entry, so be sure to leave me one comment letting me know what you did so I can add up points!

* Comments will be accepted through midnight, EST, on Monday, January 16.

* One winner will be selected via Random.org and will be announced here on Aspiring Mama shortly thereafter.

***

I'd like to thank Soleil Moon Frye for offering me the chance to share her book with all of you.

 

The Source of All Things

I had never heard of Tracy Ross before coming across a short review of her new memoir, The Source of All Things, in a recent issue of Whole Living magazine. But the review intrigued me and I made sure the book was one of my purchases with the last gift card I had to spend from the holidays.

Ross tells a disturbing tale of sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father and the resulting self-destructive aftermath. Through it all, it was nature that helped Ross to heal and find the answers to the questions she was ready to discover. It's not an easy book to read, but it's a beautiful testament to the strength of Ross's character.

What was also  interesting to me was what I took away from reading Ross's book. As a writer and a reader, I closed the cover on my nook with the realizations that:

*Ross's love for writing came after her love for nature and immersing herself within the elements on her many outdoor adventures all over the world. It might sound simplistic, but there's writing without focus because you know you love to write and then there's focusing on writing what you know. One will bring you great personal joy. The other will, too. The difference is that the audience won't give a damn about the first.

*I am not as brave as Tracy Ross. I primarily write non-fiction but focus on the funny and hide the rest of the bits in layers of snark and chuckles. It's part coping mechanism dealing with the crap I don't feel like focusing on and mostly just the way my writing voice naturally manifests itself. But to go into the detail that she did, Ross had to expose herself and those in her story in a very real way. No pretty filters to alter reality's image. Her ability to do so (and her family's willingness to allow her the much-needed opportunity to tell her truth) is something to be admired.

*a great memoir will surprise you at the end. Even if you think you know the whole story. A great memoir takes you on the same journey the author has traveled. A great memoir is hard to put down.

*that the often-touted advice to get your work in print to bolster that all important platform is often-touted for a reason. The Source of All Things first materialized as a feature length article in Backpacker Magazine in 2007. I read the original essay and it left me wanting more. The rest, as they say, is history.

***

Operation Blog Undercover (ABORT!)

The sun wakes me up. Even with the damned light-blocking curtains in our room, the bits of light peeking through the sides are enough to break into my happy little dreams. I curse myself for forgetting to put on my sleep mask the night before and decide to throw the quilt over my head for a little more time to rest. I'm allowed. My mom is visiting and I know that the minute she leaves, my chances for anything that resembles sleeping in will be out the closest window.

But first I think I'll check my email. You know, in case an agent has decided overnight that my book is Super Crazy Awesome and has sent a message asking me to call them as soon as I wake up because they are considerate enough to realize Arizona is three hours behind New York? So I reach for the phone on my nightstand and with a precision only a social media addict can attempt, have my email loading before I even open my eyes to focus on what I am looking at.

Blah, blah, new twitter followers, blah, blah, blah, I am now rich because of a dead relative I have never heard of in Zimbabwe and can I please forward all of the necessary banking information to the kind lawyer handling the matter, blah, blah, my mother-in-law wants to be friends on Facebook, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and WHAT IN THE HELL?

The fuzziness from sleep is instantly replaced by an overwhelming sense of HOLY FUCK WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW and I resist the urge to reach over to the other side of the bed and backhand the still sleeping Husband because my cover being blown is like, totally his fault. Or maybe it's mine for actually saying yes when he asked if he could like my blog Facebook page. BFF Mel totally warned me that was a bad idea.

"They're gonna find you," she had said.

Who pays attention to that crap?

My mother-in-law, apparently.

Before anyone new here gets too confused, I have a strict Public Blog Policy. In short it goes like this: You are allowed to read if you don't already know me. That might seem ass-backwards to normal people but when you stop to think about it or stop taking your medication it makes total sense. For starters? My in-laws say things like, "Dangnabbit" and "Dadgum" instead of, you know, real swear words. I usually behave when in their presence or on the phone with either one of them, but here?

Have y'all read my shit?

And once the in-laws get on my little social media bandwagon, all hell (sorry, I mean heck...oh shit, it's happening already) will break loose because then my side of the very Mexican and You Can't Say Things Like Fuck family will find out and I'll start censoring what I write and then things will get all boring for me and for you and I'll replace posts like this with posts not like this. Obviously, this is a major problem.

Besides, if I approve the request, there'll be questions about my book and people will assume I like to Share My Feelings with them on a regular basis and I'll most likely piss everyone off, alienate myself from The Family, and The Husband will just sit there looking confused when I try to explain to him Just One More Time the logistics behind not letting anyone know about my writing until I get an agent, a book deal, and make the best seller lists (maybe even all in the same week, right?) because then I will be established and I would totally be okay with that.

But until then this was all supposed to be my secret word garden. Password: Strangers Only.

Before I start to unnecessarily hyper-ventilate, I blink a few times and focus on the phone screen again. Her name is still there. Shitshitshitshitshit!

"What are you doing?" The Husband is now awake and staring at his crazy wife checking her email on her phone before she has even gotten out of bed to brush her teeth and pee. "You realize that if technology as we know it were to disappear tomorrow, you would probably go clinically insane from the withdrawals within a matter of moments, right?"

I don't answer. I don't trust myself to speak. Instead, I hand him the phone and climb out of bed to take care of the morning bathroom routine. As I reach for my toothbrush, I hear him start to laugh. It's probably a good thing he is still in bed because I am pretty sure he wouldn't be able to stand at this point.

I am proven wrong just a moment later.

"Quick, turn around and give me your best Deer Caught in Headlights" look." The Husband is standing behind me with the phone, ready to snap a picture.

I turn around, my expression unchanged from the moment I first saw the email.

"Perfect."

Mamavation Monday: Changing my Focus

I learned a new term today. Behavior Centered Health.

According to Ragen Chastain on Dances with Fat, behavior centered health is a concept in which healthy choices and behaviors are the goal, not a particular size, weight, or shape. I have officially been riding the diet yo-yo since the first time I begged my parents into letting me sign up for Weight Watchers as a sophomore in high school. At 5' 6'', I weighed 150 pounds and wore a size 10. My ass was admittedly not the issue. My head? Big fucking problem.

I've dealt with an eating disorder and a negative body image. I've binged and exercised. I've lost and gained the same 50 pounds only to gain and lose them again. So why did Ragen's blog strike a chord with me?

Because every diet I have ever been on, every workout I have ever done, and every goal I have ever set for myself (until recently) has been focused only on the scale and the size on the clothing tag. Maybe that's why every time I hit a snag on the Path to a Smaller Ass (like pregnancy and the resulting body aftermath) I just plain gave up.

My bottom line kind of read like this:  Why bother trying if I wasn't going to get where I wanted to be? Why put in the effort for something I could never see happening?

Yeah...I know. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Because every time I ended up giving up on myself. And if I wasn't trying, I was hell-bent on making it worse. If I can't lose the weight I might as well have that Twinkie, right? Hello Ben & Jerry. Secret late night binges followed by even more secret late night cry-fests followed by The Hiding of the Evidence at the bottom of the trash can lest The Husband have actual proof of what I had been up to when I was supposed to have been sleeping peacefully next to him.

It would take months (and sometime years) to drag myself back out of the pity party and back to the Land of the Living. Eventually I would wake up ready and willing to Give it My All and Try Again. And everything would be hunky-dory until another snag would knock me back on my ass and into the nearest pint of Cookie Dough ice-cream.

Not very productive, if you ask me.

Then, one day? My head fixed itself. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe it was the year I spent trying to lose more weight so I could have material for a book only to realize the journey was the destination and not the other way around. Maybe it was my daughter looking at me with the truth that can only be found in the eyes of a child and telling me that I am beautiful. Or maybe it was realization that the scale didn't fucking matter; how I feel when I eat right and take care of myself does.

So even though I am still in it for health and still strive to reach a lower number on the scale for that single reason, the number on said scale is no longer my only reason for living. Instead, I focus on how I feel. I'm going to keep working out because my body needs it. I'm going to eat clean because my body needs it. I'm going to smile in spite of the scale.

And telling myself that I'm pretty. Because that's always a plus.

***

What about you? What do you think? Is Behavior Centered Health the way to go?

When Actions Speak

There are certain pieces of my being that have been ingrained as absolute truth. Always show respect to your elders. You are considered a grown woman when you take your husband's last name (and therefore are allowed to drink alcohol in front of the aforementioned elders.) And family before self. Always.

But don't you dare light up a cigarette in front of The Family. Ever since tio quit 13 years ago, it's been understood that if you did smoke, it's a habit that needed to be talked around similar to the way no one ever questioned the frequency with which 10-pound premature babies are born to sons and daughters of friends and cousins not too long after weddings.

"Five months early, eh?" Knowing eyes. Secret smiles. Brand new baby clothes, price tags already removed. Nothing smaller than 3-6 month in the gift bag. "She's beautiful."

My father, who gave up his Miller Lite for Lent every year but never made it to church on Easter Sunday because he was nursing the hangover he got started on at midnight, once told me that even after being married and having five girls, smoking was still off limits in front of his father. It wasn't a habit Dad relied upon. More of a social thing in which he might or might not bum a smoke off a friend and be happy without another until the next cookout maybe a year later. But too many beers on too little food made Dad careless one day. Dad stepped out onto the porch with a friend only to be caught by my grandfather as he was getting ready to leave.

"He never said a word," Dad said. "He just looked at me. I threw the cigarette on the ground and went back inside."

My grandfather didn't talk to my father for a week. My father never picked up another cigarette again.

At least when my grandfather was around.

***

I am standing in front of the courthouse, tears heated with the anger of betrayal falling from unblinking eyes as I look into the storm. My four sisters, backs braced against the reality they are choosing not to acknowledge. They stand close, arms interlocked, lips tight. My cousin stands with them, her eyes focused on her mother across the divide. Occasionally, one of my sisters almost loses control when a corner of their mouth starts to twitch. Even with my eyes trained over their heads, even with my focus directed on blowing smoke into the faces of the women who helped raise us, I understand that my sisters are fighting a battle between tears for what we have lost and laughter in response to my actions.

So do my aunts. They attempt to concentrate their nervous glances on the sky and on imaginary pieces of lint on their jackets,  anywhere but where I am standing while our respective lawyers attempt to make peace before the storm of misplaced loyalties intensifies. We had lost our father. They, their only brother. There hadn't been time to prepare.

"Do you think he would be proud of what you are doing?" My cousin had asked her mother before court. "Do you honestly believe he would stand back and let you hurt them like this?"

She laughed in her daughter's face before walking away.

Family before self.

The lawyer told us not to say a word to them. They told us it was better this way.

And that's just fine. Because with each inhalation, I stand straighter. With each new cigarette lit off the still burning butt of the one currently being smashed out beneath my heel, I redefine the word family. With each unblinking exhalation aimed directly into the faces of strangers we once knew, they can hear it.

We all can.

Fuck. You.

This post was written in response to a The Red Dress Club prompt asking writers to describe an emotional fight. What I have written above is non-fiction.