Sep 282009

I recently heard a vicious radio debate between women who believe that mothers should stay home and others who believe that mothers should work outside the home. All the debaters were mothers themselves.

As I listened wearily while ducking and dodging the ladies’ sucker punches like a cornered boxer, I thought…this is really getting old.

I’ve been both a “working” and a “stay home” mom so I’ve experienced both sides of the internal and eternal debate moms endure all day, every day. When I worked outside my house, Mommy Guilt rode shotgun with me each morning, chiding me for dropping off my sick boy at day care instead of keeping him home and for rocking him the night before instead of preparing for work. When I got to work each day Mommy Guilt whispered that a good mom would still be at home with her son and when I returned home she’d insist that a better teacher would have stayed at work longer. When I’d visit girlfriends who stayed home, Mommy Guilt would say “See…this lady’s doing it right. Her kids are better off than yours are.” And Mommy Guilt certainly had a hey day when Chase’s day care provider admitted that he had taken his first steps while I was working. Every night when I finally got Chase to sleep, finished grading papers, and collapsed into the couch, Mommy Guilt would snuggle up next to me and sweetly say “shouldn’t you spend some quality time with your husband instead of checking out?” And finally, before I fell asleep each night, Mommy Guilt would whisper in my ear, “YOU KNOW, THE ONLY WAY YOU’RE GOING TO BE A GOOD MOTHER AND WIFE IS IF YOU QUIT YOUR JOB AND STAY HOME.”

And so now I’m a stay at home mom. And the thing is that Mommy Guilt stays home with me. These days I experience her less as a drive- by- shooter and more as a constant commentator. Now she sounds like this:

“Did you go to all three of those college classes just so you could clean the kitchen and play Candy Land all day? And how is it that you don’t even do those things very well? Can you concentrate on nothing? Look at this mess! A good mom would clean more and play less. Also, a good mom would clean less and play more. Also a good mom would clean more and play more and quit emailing altogether. Additionally, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’re sure you feel comfortable spending so much money when you don’t even make any. Moreover, when was the last time you volunteered at Chase’s school? What kind of stay at home mom doesn’t go to PTA meetings or know how to make lasagna? Furthermore, nobody in this house appreciates you.” My favorite, though, is that when I finally do sit down, concentrate on one of my kids, and read a few books all the way through… instead of saying “Good job!” Mommy Guilt says, “See how happy your daughter is? You’re home all day…why don’t you do this more often?”

And of course, before I go to sleep every night she whispers… “YOU KNOW, MAYBE YOU’D BE A BETTER MOTHER AND WOMAN IF YOU COULD JUST GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND WORK.”

Mommy Guilt is like that scene from “Liar, Liar” in which Jim Carrey enters a bathroom, throws himself against the walls, slams his head inside the toilet seat, rubs soap into his eyes…and when he stumbles back into the lobby, he explains his battered appearance like this: I WAS KICKIN’ MY ASS! DO YA MIND?”

I sympathize with kicking one’s own ass. I do it all the time.

What I don’t understand is why some ladies insist on making everything worse by kicking each other’s asses.

To the women who argue vehemently that all “good mothers” stay at home: Are you nuts? If you got your way, who would show my daughters that some women actually change out of yoga pants and into scrubs and police badges and power suits each day? How would my girls even know that women who don’t feel like carrying diaper bags can carry briefcases or stethoscopes instead…or also? How, pray tell, could I tell them with a straight face that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be?

And to the women who argue that all stay home mothers damage women’s liberation: Are you nuts? Aren’t you causing some damage by suggesting that we all must fit into a category, that women are a cause instead of individuals? And doesn’t choosing to spend your limited time and energy attacking “us” set “us” back? But for argument’s sake, what if you got your way and every mother was required to work outside of the home? What would that mean to ME? Who would volunteer to lead my son’s reading group at school, host his class party, plan his Sunday school lesson or wait with him in the parking lot when I forget to pick him up? Who would watch my daughter while the baby gets her shots? Who would knock on my door and tell me that my keys are still in the front door, the doors to my van are open, and my purse is in the driveway?

And if every woman made the same decision, how would my children learn that sometimes motherhood looks like going to work to put food on the table or stay sane or share your gifts or because you want to work and you’ve earned that right.And that other times motherhood looks like staying home for all of the exact same reasons.

As far as I can tell, no matter what decision a woman makes, she’s offering an invaluable gift to my daughters and me. So I’d like to thank all of you. Because I’m not necessarily trying to raise an executive or a mommy. I’m trying to raise a woman. And there are as many different right ways to be a woman as there are women.

So, angry, debating ladies…here’s the thing. My daughter is watching me andyou to learn what it means to be a woman. And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is. I’d like her to learn that her strength is defined by her honesty and her ability to exist in grey areas without succumbing to camouflaging her insecurities with generalizations or accusations. And I’d like her to learn that the only way to be both graceful and powerful is to dance among the endless definitions of the word woman… and to refuse to organize women into categories, to view ideas in black and white, or to choose sides and come out swinging. Because being a woman is not that easy, and it’s not that hard.

And speaking of “Liar, Liar”….angry debating ladies…. when you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that you believeyou’ve got it all figured out.I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

Which is tempting, but also wrong.

So, maybe instead of tearing each other up, we could each admit that we’re a bit torn up about our choices, or lack thereof. And we could offer each other a shoulder or a hand. And then maybe our girls would see what it really means to be a woman.

Oct 192009

I must interrupt your scheduled tour of the Momastery with breaking news.

This past Saturday my 15 year high school reunion was held, in the form of a family picnic. The day began ominously.

I stepped outside on Saturday morning and noted that it was pouring down ice cold rain. I expressed my dismay but was actually pleased, because this seemed a valid excuse to stay home from the reunion. Usually, the moment after I accept any invitation, I start searching for excuses to cancel. This cancelling compulsion is a little character defect that I plan to discuss with my therapist as soon as I locate the time and money to hire one. For now, let’s just say that my desire to bail reached epic proportions the morning of the reunion.

But since I’ve received no expert opinion about how to fight my flight instinct….I did what I always do the day of events I’m planning to ditch. I started dropping not-so-subtle hints to Craig during breakfast.

This weather is ridiculous, I said. I really don’t think we should take Amma outside in it.

Why don’t you go by yourself to the picnic and I’ll keep the kids?

Oh, that won’t work.

Why not?

I’m not sure why not. But I’ll think of the reason in a minute.

I think you should go, Glennon.

I know, I said.

But I was scared.

I don’t remember much of who I was in high school. Much of that time is a vague and uncomfortable memory. But I do know that I treated myself very poorly. And I also know that people who treat themselves poorly rarely treat others well. So I don’t allow myself to think about that time often, because I don’t want to remember how many I people I hurt in my quest to stop myself from hurting.

In high school I was so consumed with what other people thought of me that I had no time to actually notice other people. I was so terrified that I wouldn’t have the right friends that I never really tried to be a friend to anyone who was available. I was so paralyzed by the feeling that I was on the outside looking in, that I never peeked to my left or right, to see if there might be someone else looking in too, someone who might like to chat. Instead of opening myself up to others on the periphery of high school life, I turned my back on them, because acknowledging them would be an admission that I wasn’t inside enough. Acknowledging anyone else would have meant that I needed someone to talk to. I was so singularly focused on becoming and remaining popular that I had no concern with being liked.

All of this anxiety proved itself too much for me, so I held my breath all day at school until I could get home and exhale with several boxes of cereal and my arms wrapped around a toilet. And after that I’d feel disgusted and sick enough not to feel anything else. And that was better. It also kept me busy, so I didn’t have to do anything hard or scary like truly make friends. I was voted “best leader” in high school, and I was the one with the microphone at the pep rallies….but somehow I didn’t manage to make and keep a single friend. I had a few chances with good people, but then I went away to college and started drinking, too. And the self induced food and booze drama ensured that whatever bridges I built were burned or simply left unattended to decay and crumble.

In high school I think I was so desperate to belong to a group that it was impossible for me to relate to anyone individually. I think that’s why Craig and the kids have been so healing for me. Because they, finally, are my group. I belong to them and they belong to me. And I can say with confidence that I’m one of the top three most popular girls in my house. I might even venture to say that I’m a trendsetter in these parts.

But yesterday I had to leave my group and go back to high school. And I was literally shaking in the shower with the anticipation of facing this monster who was my past self, and of facing people who once upon a time knew her and maybe, I thought, didn’t care for her much.

And apparently I would have to go in the freezing rain. So there would be no cute outfit or sassy hair behind which to hide. And no booze. And no husband. I didn’t even have a stick of gum to assist me in appearing busy and aloof. I was unprepared. I got into the shower and started taking a lot of deep breaths.

When I climbed out of the shower and reached for my makeup I realized it was gone. I turned my bathroom and bedroom upside down in a frantic search and then ran downstairs to interrogate Tish. She stared at me blankly. I scoured the entire house. Make-up – GONE.

I went back to my bathroom, stared into the mirror and asked God if He was sure that all of this was really necessary. I said that I understood completely why He needed to take my cereal binges, my rum and cokes, my chardonnay, and my cigarettes. But I suggested politely that maybe taking my concealer and eye shadow, too, was a tad melodramatic. Even for Him. I waited and continued to stare into the mirror, hoping for a cosmic apology and a dramatic reappearance of my toiletry bag. I heard nothing except for the sound of a mammoth, angry zit screaming at me from my chin. It dawned on me slowly and heavily that God was planning to send me into battle with no weapons or armor at all. I glanced back down at the bathroom counter, half- expecting to find a slingshot.

I decided to just keep breathing and put one foot in front of the other. I found Tish’s makeup bag (long story), and did my best to cover my zits and eyelids with her glittery Wet and Wild mess. I ended up looking, well, a lot like I did in high school. And then I threw on a big sweater and jeans, grabbed the only social buffers available, Chase and Tish, and set out to meet Goliath.

When I pulled into the park where the picnic was being held I opened up my parking pass and saw that it said “Class of ’94 – Go to Shelter A.” And I started to cry right there in the car. Because shelter was such a comforting word.

This did wonders for my 99 cent mascara which, I now realized too late, was purple.

So Chase, Tish, and I pulled up to the shelter. And the rain kept falling, but we made it under the roof of the shelter together and walked straight to the heater to warm our hands. And then people started hugging us and we started hugging people back.

And now, you guys should probably know, I’m crying again while writing this and I can’t stop the tears.

Because I was there. In a way that I was never really there in high school. And I hugged people and noticed them and met their husbands and shook their wives’ hands and held their babies. I listened to their stories and asked questions and actually cared about their answers. I watched Tony cook burgers for us in the rain and met his beautiful wife, Joy. I laughed with Jennifer, who is as warm and cozy as a fireplace, and tried hard just to enjoy her instead of wishing I’d gotten to spend high school laughing with her, too. I met Jen’s baby boys and learned about her brother’s wife and her parents’ trips to Idaho in their RV. I met Brian’s wife Kate, and got to hold their daughter Emily’s baby soft hand. I watched people hold Tish’s hand and pat Chase’s head. I got to meet Smita’s kind and sophisticated husband and tickle her little boy’s feet. I talked, really talked, to Aylene, who might be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, for reasons other than her stunning appearance. She let me hold her baby boy, Landon, for a long time, and I rubbed his cheek while she told me about her life. And I got to notice, out loud, that Dave’s little boy Joe looks exactly like him, except with his wife’s pretty brown eyes. And then I saw Susie, who I always respected too much to talk to in high school. And when I nervously approached her to tell her how beautiful her children were, I learned that I remembered her quiet dignity exactly right.

And it all felt like joy. Like what I wanted so badly to feel in high school. That I was a part of something. I felt part of a we.

Here we are.

In high school I tried so hard to make things look pretty on the outside, but the inside was stormy and cold and dark. Yesterday was the opposite.

It was a true reunion, for me. It was my new, whole, and present self meeting my old, afraid self, holding her hand and saying, to her – it’s okay. It’s okay, now. Because we finally get it. And the lesson was worth learning the hard, long way. Because we understand now that it was never about what those people thought of us. It was just about those people.

Thank you. Thank you Jen, Jennifer, Tara, Christy, Anne Marie, Eric, and everyone else who made yesterday happen.

Thank you for helping me reunite.

Oct 292009

This post is dedicated to my new blog friend, Joelle.

My college experience was a little….vague. I am told that I had an excellent time, but I can’t be sure. Mercifully, I mostly recall college as a seven year black out, but sometimes a memory of something I did, said, or worse, WORE, hits me like a wave of nausea, and I marvel at how I made it out of there alive.

Throughout college I had this sweet little ritual where I’d enjoy a couple dozen drinks and then go for a walk, perhaps at 3 am. And then, usually, I’d get lost and decide to go ahead and sleep in a cozy parking lot or under a tree somewhere in town. It was like camping, except without a tent, clue, or functioning liver. There must have been a strict No Camping rule in my college town though, because I was often awakened by annoyed men and women with guns. These uniformed bandits were not my parents, although it would take me a good three minutes to understand this. They would ask me why I was on the ground and I would assure them that I planned to explain just as soon as they told me where we all were, and also, my name.

Fortunately they actually would be able to teach me my name because, well, we’d met before. We went way back. And they’d invite me into the back of their cozy car and put shiny silver handcuffs on me. And I would sort of settle in and ask them how their families were, and they’d tell me. They liked me, and I liked them. I went to school in a sleepy little town, and so I like to think that maybe the night police shift was glad to have the company.

So we’d continue to catch up and all would go smoothly, but inevitably during the ride to my new camping spot my officers would get frustrated. Because every time they turned around to check on me, my handcuffs would be off and placed in a tidy pile on the seat beside me. So they’d stop the car and put them back on. And I’d take them back off. My wrists are very small and I had decided that while it may have been silly for one to sleep under a tree in January, it was ridiculous for one to PRETEND that one is handcuffed. I just couldn’t fake it, though I did try for the sake of my police friends. I have a paralyzing respect for authority, so I was always vehemently on their side. But they really were going to have to do better with the handcuffs. I understood that they weren’t arresting child sized people often, but still. I explained that it was probably important to be better prepared.

{A few years ago, Craig and I were watching Cops and I noticed that police forces had started using plastic cuffs that look like garbage bag ties which close more tightly. I got very excited and told Craig that I was positive that the plastic tie handcuff innovation was inspired by me and my mini wrists. He stared, as always, and then asked me to never share that theory with anyone. But it’s hard not to discuss what may have been a real contribution to the law enforcement community on my part.}

When we got to the station I would say hello to Tom and Carla, who were often in charge of checking me in. “Booking,” I believe they called it. They were lovely people, just lovely. And they’d lead me into my very own private cell which made me feel like a bit of a celebrity, to tell you the truth. Special treatment, you know. One time, after having been there for a few hours I called Carla over and asked her if I could be released early for good behavior. I’d been quite well behaved that night, if I did so say myself. She said no, it didn’t work that way. But she did agree that I was being especially good, so she shared her granola bar with me. I was deeply touched.

Eventually I’d fall asleep and I’d awake in the morning and call my long suffering friend Dana, who had always wisely slipped an index card with our phone number into my back pocket. And she’d pick me up and we’d go to Waffle House and discuss what we were going to wear that night.

Wow. Strange, but true.

I started thinking of these stories yesterday when I got an email from a woman who is a sheriff deputy and reads this blog daily. In her email she thanked me for inspiring her. I was up all night thinking about her and how proud I am that she’s reading my blog. I forwarded her email to my dad with the subject line: DAD- THE POLICE ARE READING MY BLOG! which was probably so much more enjoyable for him to receive than my usual announcement “DAD- THE POLICE ARE READING MY RIGHTS!”

You guys, I don’t want to sound boastful, but I think I’m finally coming up in the world.

Joelle, Tom, Carla, Grandpa, and every other kind and dedicated officer. Thank you. Thank you for protecting me from bad guys, even when the bad guy is me. Thank you for serving so bravely and honorably. Thank you for improving all of my camping experiences exponentially. And thank you, especially, for the granola bar. I was really hungry. I appreciate you.

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