Monday, March 13, 2017

Empowered in Pink

At the art museum yesterday, I looked over and Stella had created a fashion collage on pink paper.

Stella’s birthday is quickly approaching. And, as always, my incredible daughter has a theme. This year? It’s fashion. A fashion runway party where all the guests will get outfits to model, as well as complete makeovers. (Look it up, it’s a thing.)

Pre-kid Randi is growling with anger. Because back before I’d ever carried a child in my womb, I’d figured this whole motherhood thing out. My kids would never throw fits. My kids would sleep through the night. My kids would be 100% breastfed with no supplementation. My kids would never know the word “McDonalds” until they went to college. And my kids would never, ever buy into cis-gender stereotypical crap.

Stella has taught me so much about myself. Because of our rough start – her not sleeping for her first 16 months and exhibiting early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder – my own mental health issues had no choice but to come to the surface where I could finally get help for them. Her empathetic heart teaches me every day how self-centered I am. Like when I grumble about a car’s slow driving and she pipes up from the back seat, “Mom, maybe that person is new to driving and just wants to be careful.”

And her complete adoration for everything considered traditionally feminine has shown me how much internalized sexism I needed to shed.

Why did I bristle when Stella wanted to wear frilly, pink dresses? Why did it drive me nuts when she said she wanted to be a baker when she grew up? Why was I so annoyed when I found her meddling with the few pieces of makeup I keep on hand for the five times a year I wear it?

My grandmothers made sure to teach me all the traditional female jobs. I could cook, bake, sew, clean, crochet, and even needlepoint. I loved spending time with my grandmothers, but their old-fashioned views of a “woman’s place” irked me. So, even though I enjoyed all of those activities, I shunned them the minute I could.

When I moved out on my own after college and had to cook, I remembered how much I liked it. And then I’d bake for parties, and found that I couldn’t wait to bake again. I never wanted someone to assume I had to cook or bake, I certainly never wanted a man I was dating to think it was my job to feed him, but I realized I really loved these activities.

Feminism is the radical belief that we shouldn’t be held back by gender stereotypes. But I was holding myself back by forbidding myself to do anything considered “feminine.”

Stella refuses to be held back by such beliefs. The kid wears something in pink daily. She sleeps in a sleep mask. She loves to go to afternoon tea and is obsessed with fashion. She has a Disney princess collection.

She literally sleeps in this My Little Pony sleep mask nightly. And she's also the kind of kid who reads her book over breakfast.

But she’s also the kid who will see an ad with an objectified woman and rant about how sexist it is. She was heartbroken when Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected, and remains shocked that we haven’t had a woman president yet (as am I). She is obsessed with women scientists throughout history. And although she loves Barbies, she always points out how “unrealistic” their waists are and gives them narratives other than some obsession with Ken. We don’t even own a Ken doll, in fact.

Stella embraces all things traditionally feminine because that is her personality. And those things have worth. We shouldn’t expect all women to embrace them, and we certainly shouldn’t tell men they shouldn’t embrace them, either. But just because they are associated with women doesn’t make them bad.

In fact, as Stella would tell you, they can be empowering.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Progress at the Zoo

An easy, enjoyable day at the zoo. And a personal triumph for me.

Today, I took both my kids to the zoo by myself. And I didn't have a single meltdown. I didn't even get snippy - well, not more so than every other parent there . I never felt like I was going to hyperventilate or that I needed to run away for a few minutes. I didn't even usher us home after two hours, as usual. We stayed around four, in fact.

I guess this may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it's huge for me. As I've mentioned before, I'm really, really good at hiding my anxiety issues about 90% of the time. So most people probably have no clue that activities like taking my kids to the zoo or playground or museums by myself are one of my biggest hurdles. But boy, are they.

Many factors conspired to make today great. It's one of my favorite weather days: sunny, a slight chill in the air, the smell of new Spring buds barely perceptible. I've also been eating well, avoiding foods that make my anxiety worse (like alcohol, dairy, and processed sugar). I've been getting decent sleep (under my highly-recommended weighted blanket) and working out regularly. I've been a bonafide poster child for treating anxiety holistically.

But a huge chunk of my success is attributed to my therapy. I've been seeing a therapist regularly for about seven years now, and less regularly for 20. I've tried traditional talk therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, writing-based therapy, and now EMDR - a far less traditional therapy that's been shown in studies to be not only extremely effective for PTSD, but also incredibly quick compared to other therapies.

How does it work? Well, it sounds strange, I'm not going to lie. You choose some of your most traumatic memories. And you close your eyes and try to remember and retell as many details surrounding the memory as possible, all while listening to a series of pulses in your ears. You work through the same memory until the process of retelling it is no longer seriously painful. And then you move onto the next memory.

I've been at it for about a year, and the progress has been impressive.

Today is the perfect example. I woke up later than I'd meant to. I usually like to be at the zoo when it opens. But my lovely husband got up with the kids so I could sleep later, possibly as penance since he'll be in grad school all day. I felt the panic creep up -- WE'RE GOING TO BE LATE -- and then I let it go. Who cares? It's Saturday. There's no timeline. Besides, it's the off-season, so getting there early isn't so important. And so I made myself a lovely, healthy breakfast, drank my coffee while it was hot, and let the kids watch one more episode of their show.

I started to obsess over what to pack. Water bottles? Snacks? Extra clothes in case Sam has an accident? Lunches? A first aid kit? I dreaded the thought of all that preparation, and I REALLY dreaded the thought of carrying it all. Sam's old enough that we don't need to lug around a stroller, and I did not want to carry a backpack. Besides, I spend almost my entire week planning, packing, preparing, and executing. I get the kids' stuff prepped for school, I pack my own lunch every single day, I do a ton of prep work as a teacher, and as the team leader this year, it's my job to organize the other teachers on my team -- planning events, coordinating schedules, communicating with parents. I spend Monday - Friday putting everything in order and making sure everyone knows everything they're supposed to do. So, I decided that today is my day off, damn it. I'm going to go to the zoo with NOTHING. Money, sunglasses, ID. That's it.

It was so liberating. When we got hungry, I bought food. When we got thirsty, there were water fountains. If there was a boo boo, it could be cleaned at home.

I happily withdrew myself from the Best Mom Contest today by not packing healthy, organic snacks and lunches for my kids. Look at them sucking on artificially colored sugar water from PBA-laden bottles!

While at the zoo, I could feel the old anxiety creep up a couple of times. When folks started to crowd around us in the polar bear exhibit. When Sam bolted from me in the gorilla sanctuary. When both kids whined because they wanted to do different things.

But I was able to handle it. I was able to tolerate the crowds, to firmly warn Sam that he'd get a time out if he didn't stick by me, to calmly ask my kids to use their big kid voices and compromise. I had control over myself and my reactions, and I wanted to shout to every stranger I saw, THIS FEELS AMAZING!

I was able to take this picture without obsessively worrying that one of my kids would fall and get hurt!

I guess this is how people who don't have anxiety always feel? That's incredible to me. I've lived for most of my 41 years grappling with certain situations, dreading certain activities, constantly pretending to be normal. I can't tell you how much more I'm able to enjoy my life now.

So, let me be a walking advertisement for EMDR. I hesitated for so many years, thinking, "I never fought in a war! How could I have PTSD?" But if some seriously you-know-what went down in your childhood, if you find yourself triggered by certain situations, you might be the perfect candidate. If it can make this much of a change in me, I know it can help anyone.

Best of all, I was really able to revel in the sweetness of moments like this one.