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From Camp

I wrote this after a particularly trying time at camp where I found myself shaking and crying on the way home and I wasn’t exactly sure why. Now, I think I get it. I think I understood the abuse this child had gone through. The pain that he so openly expressed from the wounds that he had endured at the hands of adults. I think I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was overwhelmed by it and didn’t know how to handle his inappropriate actions. I was even more ashamed by the parent. I was ashamed of the way she looked at this boy. Like he didn’t deserve to be there with her daughters. Or that he didn’t deserve to be taught by me. I’m not sure exactly where those feelings came from, and I couldn’t even really bring myself to post this. But, now reading it, I think I will.

The other day I had a difficult student.

I just got finished teaching a spring break camp. This was a free camp that parents could send their kids off to for one week, eight hours a day, for the entirety of spring break. My goal was to make this one kick ass camp. Okay, so I didn’t have ponies or rope courses. Maybe our art supplies were limited to some clay and some markers and some paper. Maybe my camp was held in a deserted juvenile detention center. But, that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun.

We spent our time discussing relationships and ourselves and making art that included sculptures of faces and stress balls and even some really awesome three dimensional hands. We also worked on creating a movie that the kids acted in.

At the end of the camp the parents all filed in to listen to their wonderful kids speak about what they had worked on and what they had enjoyed. They were happy I had been their teacher, some were even sad to leave.

I had one that was a difficult student. My difficult student didn’t understand, or didn’t respect, personal boundaries. His emotions were either an overwhelming baby voice expression of love and devotion or an angry and threatening defensive position. When he stood up during our end presentation and professed that I was his mother, and that he loved me, and, “Don’t you dare say you aren’t because you are.”, one of the concerned parents asked me if I had told his mother about the way that he treated me.

But, here’s the thing, concerned parent: not all of my students live with their mothers. Not all of my students live with any kind of family at all. The thing about my program is that I have these kids that really love and are interested in art and self expression that come from loving parents that support them and encourage them and teach them how to behave. They teach them how to love and respect themselves and others. And then I have other students who come to my program because they don’t want to go home. I have students whose parents/grandparents/caretakers drop them off with me because they need someone to “please take them please I don’t understand them and I’m exhausted and I’m scared.”

In the silence

I want to tell you what it is like in the silence. The aloneness that only comes once in a while when the children are finally asleep and I’m here, wasting those precious hours of silence, surfing the net or looking for jobs or searching for homes that I couldn’t possibly afford. It is like this lonely feeling that is completely consuming and then completely and utterly comforting. I once imagined myself in this aloneness with a partner. The silent time a space to slip off each others clothes and kiss each others bodies. I imagined the aloneness as oneness where I could lie on his chest and smell the dip where the clavicle lies. We would talk in whispers and our souls would lean so close to the other that they would merge together and be just one. I yearned so badly for that two into oneness that I would sometimes waste my silent time crying from the lonely that consumed me.

Then, one night, I had it. I was naked and we talked and we cried some and we kissed some. It was nice and warm and really fucking terrifying. I had to be me for someone else. When I felt angry or scared it wasn’t just that battle in my mind where I sling insults and the other lover backs down and kisses my fingertips and massages my back and loves me loves me loves me because I can do no wrong. No matter how full of vinegar and piss I am. When I am joined I have to watch my words. I have to take cues from his words, his looks, his touch. Sometimes I have to be an actress. It is exhausting.

I sit in the silence now. It’s a nice and warm silence. My ears are always perked for the cries of the babes or a strange rattle that may just mean that a crazed axe murderer has come a knocking. In my silence, I admire my little home. The way that I have decorated it for me, the toys for the babes. I admire myself. My mind. My body. Sometimes I really truly admire my body, and do a better job of it than my partners ever have. Sometimes I eat unabashedly. I clean frantically. I cry a lot. But, in all of these things I don’t have to explain myself to anyone else. I just have to justify my habits to me. And, they are always justifiable.

That’s the thing about the silent times. They are never truly silent. They are filled with motions and movements. They have a symphony that is composed of the hum of the fish tank, or the whoosh of the air conditioning, or my own erratic breaths. In this silence I feel honored that I have been given the time to hear myself.

“But I have to say something! I need to speak!” This is what I hear from my 3-year-old little mister after I tell him, “No, that’s enough, do not ask again”, after he has asked fifty million times to eat tons of candy, or if he can watch television at midnight, or if he can take off all his clothes in public.

“I need to speak.” He tells me this through little clenched teeth, like he’s holding his words in and if he doesn’t utter them they will explode out of his chest. “Okay”, I tell him, “Say it.” And he will, for the five million and oneth time, ask me for something that he knows he will not get.

And this is me. I stopped praying after my sister died. I had been raised to believe that if I had faith enough to fill a mustard seed, I could move mountains. I prayed every night. I prayed for forgiveness for every sin that I imagined I did. I prayed for blessings for everyone. I prayed prayers of thanks if something good happened to me. But mostly I prayed when I wanted things to change.

I can remember the first time I prayed desperately and vehemently. I was probably about six or seven years old, and in an attempt to bring my parents some joy, I prayed that I would wake up the next morning and be a baby again. An infant. I wanted them to smile and hold me and forget any troubles they ever had. I wanted to make them happy. I can remember praying so hard that sweat rolled down my back. I can remember lying in bed and crying and pleading. I had faith to fill ten mustard seeds.

When I woke up the next morning, still very much six years old, I laid in bed and sobbed.

I prayed when my sister was dying. I prayed and I begged. I prayed out loud in the hospital. I cursed, and I knew. I knew that my prayers were just whispers. I knew they weren’t going anywhere. And maybe it was the doubt that came in when I woke up in my bed at six years old, but I knew I was all alone.

When my sister died I felt completely betrayed and lied to. Everything I had ever been told was a lie, a trick, and I felt so supremely ignorant. There was no giant man in white robes with outstretched arms who could both love me if I obeyed, and torture me if I sinned. I had been made to feel guilt for actions that were natural. I had been told stories that warped my perception of who I am. I felt full of rage for being made to feel that I was being taken care of by a giant father, and that the sins that I had committed were causing me to suffer.

I felt cut off and I refused to ever pray again.

Sometimes prayers would enter into my mind and I would stop them, “No. That’s not real. No one is there to hear that.” And I would move on and go forward except with something that felt like a sore and tender part in my chest and emotions that were almost always on the verge of tears.

When people would talk about God or religion I would smile, but inside I would think of their ignorance and pity them. All the while something inside of me felt like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter. Something like anxiety and fear and anger. Like a dog in a corner.

This past year, though, I have been allowing myself to let go. The caged dog inside of me yells out, “I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY! I NEED TO SPEAK!”, and I say, “Okay, it’s okay to believe in God. It’s okay to pray. You can pray.” And slowly, I have allowed myself to whisper prayers.

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I don’t pray like I used to. When I used to pray I would imagine a giant man with a beard sort of smiling at me and sort of frowning who would nod as my words entered his ears. Now, when I pray, I think of the stars. I think of the blackness of the sky and I think of spaces that exist deep inside of the earth. I imagine energy flowing out of me. I imagine all the people of the earth and all of the animals and I pray to them. I wish for them. I used to start off my prayers with “Dear God” and ended them with “Amen”. Now, when I need to speak, I just speak. I speak almost constantly. I look at the sunshine and I thank it for it’s beauty. I look at the road and imagine the hands that built it and thank those people for their hands. I look at my sweet little babies and I thank their souls and I thank their hands and I thank their noses. I also thank myself, I thank myself for allowing me to speak. I thank myself for allowing me to believe in a God, and for allowing that God to be something different than the God that I was always told about. And I thank the world for teaching me that maybe even if I ask five million and one times for something I may never get it, but that it’s okay to speak anyways.

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And so, I have something to say, and that something is thank you. Thank you for you beauty, your kindness, and your prayers, and thank you for allowing me to speak.

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Lately

Oh, hello old friend. Fancy seeing you here. I know I haven’t been around in a while. It’s not that I don’t want to. In fact, the exact opposite. There’s not too many a day that pass by where I don’t have an idea that comes into my head that I want to take here to transmit to the rest of the world. Except, once I have the “time” to put that idea down there is something that stops me. Like, writing up lesson plans for the next day, completing art projects, convincing the Jude to sleep/shower/put on underpants, brief and wonderful dances with that thing we used to call sleep. I don’t necessarily feel busy, but maybe I am. I get to do this job where I work with these really beautiful and wonderful and infuriating young people that I love, and I get to spend the vast majority of the day knee deep in cuddles and giggles and drool and poop.

It’s not bad.

But, I guess it doesn’t give me a whole lot of wiggle room. The Jude, in finding himself as a toddler and therefore and adult, tells me more about life every day. Lately, when I find myself having to take toys that are thrown at the baby or food that has been smushed into everywhere, he pushes out his lip and says to me, “Mama, you just broke my heart.” And it breaks my heart. I imagine him with his lover far far faaaaarrr in the future and I almost pity the person. He’ll be like his father. Too charming. Too silly. Absolutely beautiful and special, and they will be so deeply in love that any indiscretion he commits will be automatically forgiven. I imagine that he may break some hearts.

The baby princess is now noisy. She sits on her own and chirps her morning afternoon and evening songs until someone presents her with whatever her chirpy little mouth desires. Her chubby rolls are lasting and get coos and smiles everywhere we go. I like to kiss them while her scratchy little paws pull out clumps of my hair. 

My heart feels sort of torn. Everyone says that when you have more than one little person gripping at you day and night your love is not divided, but multiplied. I think of this saying a lot. I feel like my love is multiplied. In fact, I feel this overflowing of love. This strange happiness follows me everywhere and makes me believe that only good things will happen from here on out. But, I still feel like I’m gypping one kid when I do not slather this abundance of love all over them and instead dividing it up between them. There is more love, but it is still divided. Like, when we go to bed. Sweet baby D goes down around 8:30. We snuggle and we nurse and she’s out within about five minutes. Snuggled up around her little chubby baby body and smelling her little pheromone head and breathing in cadence with her short baby breaths without fail sends me into the first phases of the REM cycle. And then, without fail, Jude comes with pitter patter toes and a three year old voice and three-year-old bouncing feet and even when I start to send some kind of prayer plea desperate cry to the universe he jumps up into the bed and on my head. At this moment my love feels divided. I feel like I want to stay curled up with baby D and warm and dream about mermaids and pizza all night, and I want the three year old Jude to climb into his own bed and settle in and just go to sleep.

It is at this moment that I usually cry. I cry those real desperate oh-my-god-what-have-I-done-this-is-not-life tears. Then I slide my arm out from under baby D, and I rub my eyes, and I entertain and brush teeth and read books and finally finally finally lay my head down beside him. And then, we cuddle up, and before bed he rubs his nose on mine, for snuzzies, and love is multiplied once again.

What is feminism anyways? One of the girls in my prevention class asked me this the other day. She has this long brown hair that reaches down her back and sometimes she wears red lipstick and Metallica shirts.

Feminism is the idea that women have the same rights as men. It was the only thing that I could think to tell her, the easiest way I could describe this idea, even though I knew that it left questions unanswered and that it didn’t fully answer her question to begin with. Do you think that women today are treated the same as men are? I asked the question to all of them.

Yeah, I mean, women can do the same things that men can. I mean, we gained the right to vote a long time ago, right? They told me that, and various other things about women’s suffrage and how we can go to work, just like men, and then the conversation switched to boys and boyfriends and I had the fleeting idea that maybe, possibly, they were right. That in their world women and men were treated the same. Maybe they were too young to understand the various inequalities, and maybe they were young enough to change those things and to live in a world where feminism doesn’t exist, where it doesn’t need to.

Then we talked about one boy, one boy that they talk about a lot, who has lots of girlfriends. Girlfriends that he cheats on and more waiting in the wing. They told me that if he attended my class he would tell me I have nice legs.

Why do you think these girls stay with this boy that treats them badly?

And they told me because they really like him, and then, with more prompting, because they may have low self esteem.

What if the roles were reversed? What if the girl were the one with lots of boyfriends? What would people think of that?

Well, then she’s a hoe.

And my heart broke a little then. At twelve and thirteen these girls, most of whom have never had a boyfriend and have never been through heartbreak and have not yet even had a first kiss, told me without even knowing that women in their world are not equal to men. Girls are not equal to boys. Some part of me had held on to the idea that my little princess bird could understand that she is a girl woman child, that she will be different than her brother and that she will grow differently and that she will understand differently, but that the rights that they share will be the same. I had hoped that maybe her world wouldn’t need feminism.

I knew that even after I explained the unfairness in that situation, and how harmful the word “hoe” is in the first place that it was one of those conversations that will take years to catch in their minds, if at all.

When I left class that night I stopped at the gas station to fill up so that I didn’t end up stranded on the side of the road. When I walked in to pay I blushed. I wore my work clothes, a conservative skirt with tights and a button up blouse and as I handed my money to the cashier he mentioned that I was “Dressed real nice”, as I turned to walk out a man nodded at me, another winked. I’ll be honest when I say I was embarrassed. Ashamed that I had worn heals to work, that maybe my skirt was too short. I’ll be honest when I say a very real part of me was terrified. It was 7 o’clock at night and my car is small and old and not very fast, it was dark out and cold and had any one of those men wanted to attack me, wanted to act out any scene that began to play out in their heads when I walked into the gas station, they very easily could have. I was defenseless. Because I am a woman and I am small I am almost always defenseless.

Girls from my counseling class, girls and women everywhere, and my tiny Wren baby, and even more my beautiful little boy-this is why we still need feminism.

Feminism is the idea that no matter how small bodied we are, no matter the outfit we choose to adorn our bodies with, no matter the way we walk or drive or speak, we have the right to be viewed as something other than an object. Feminism is the idea that I should feel safe when walking into a gas station. It’s the idea that men do not claim us or own us simply by looking at us or ever at all. It’s the idea that rape is rape and there is no in-between-and those that say otherwise are ignorant, because no matter how drunk a person is, and no matter how much make-up that person wears or doesn’t wear it is never okay to take from them the right to be a person and not a thing that has been put to use.

This is the frustrating thing about my job. I feel like most of the time when I’m confronted with these issues from these young people I can’t think of the right thing to say fast enough and before I know it the conversation has turned to boys or clothes or how “rancid” so and so is. How do you empower people this age? How do you change what their parents have told them and what they have seen on t.v. and heard on the internet? How do I, being a woman and small and maybe too young and inexperienced tell them that I’m learning with them (of course without telling them I’m learning with them), change things?

 

My dreams

At this moment my life is kind of sort of playing out like some of my dreams come true. I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t want to be a mother. As a child I wrapped my arms around my dolls at night, one cradled around the waist, one around the neck. I honestly believed that they existed past the plastic and fiber fill that they were made of and I apologized when I felt they were neglected. My little flesh and bone babies now occupy the spaces between my arms and against my chest at night. When I wrap around and cuddle them to me some part of me is that little girl again, and I hold them and smell them and whisper to them. Sometimes I feel like I can smell the Cabbage Patch kid baby powder that filled so many nights of my childhood.

It’s not just the babies, though they would be more than enough, but I have a job that I love. I get to work with Middle School youth. I get to encourage them to speak without fear, to talk about what they look like and what they feel like and their fears and their accomplishments without being afraid of being judged or laughed at. I get to pretend that I’m guiding them, when in reality I’m just listening. The girls that come to me all have names that remind me of flowers; as if their mothers could feel them growing and blossoming inside of them and they couldn’t help but form words like petals that would belong to them for the rest of their lives. The boys are skinny wonderful half-men who take pride in the cracking of their voices and the way that their skin will blister with acne, “Like a man.” They tell me that they don’t speak Spanish, but as they describe their family in far off Spanish lands their voices take on a poetic tone and every word comes out uncracked and beautiful. Every time I’m around them I smile. I can’t help but think of my beautiful little people. My tiny little rose bud who will grow and flower and my silly little man child whose voice will crack and splinter and become entirely new one day. I love their baby years and mourn every day the loss of them, but I do get excited for watching them grow and seeing the wonderful people they will turn into.

Other than the babies and the work my life has taken on this chaotic and wonderful rhythm. Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a ball of string that keeps on bouncing down a flight of stairs, wound up pieces of me being left behind. We are almost always on the move, my little family and me, and if we’re not I’m finding time between feeding the baby and snuggling the toddler to write up lesson plans and do artwork. It’s a good feeling, like my body and mind have finally settled into the kind of pace that they have needed all these years.

That’s not to say that it’s easy. Even dreams can be difficult. Our days are hectic and most of them have at least a few tears (and usually not only from the babies). And the job, even if it is a dream and I get to work hours that work for me and do things I love and have a boss that encourages and understands me, does not pay much (as is the case with most dreams). I also miss writing. I also miss reading. I also miss bathing regularly. But, I know that all of these things will appear again in due time, and in the mean time I’m living my dream.

Morning time

The Bird gets up early, around five o’clock. If I could, I would stay in bed with her and cuddle and coo and wrap the blankets around our heads until big brother woke with the rising sun. But, this is the noisiest darn baby I have ever heard. She rarely cries, and when she does it comes out in short caw-like bursts, but she twists and groans and clicks and tweets and grunts and makes all kinds of sounds that aren’t fit for a baby. Pure animal. So, in order not to annoy and wake brother before the dawn, I wrap her up and snuggle her close and we exit the big bed and carefully descend the stairs.

In the mornings my little birdy likes to look up at me with her swollen sleepy eyes and she gets this big, sweet, open-mouth smile on her face. I feel like I’ve known this smile my entire life. I felt similarly with my Jude. I don’t know if it’s some kind of spirit inside of them and if we’ve all been connected before any of us could remember  or if it’s that they resided inside of me for nine months and some of them was left there forever.

Whatever it is, the chirpy bird and I sit downstairs in the dark, and sometimes she gets some special grandpa time where they sing together and dance, and sometimes it’s just her and me. When it’s just us I look at her and I can’t help it, the words “Princess baby” just come out of my mouth. I don’t know why. She’s not actually a princess and the way that she grunts and snorts and turns red in the face as she wriggles doesn’t exactly make her of the princess and the pea variety, but I can’t stop myself. Sometimes she will give me that open mouth grin, and move her shoulders up so her chubby face is even more covered in rolls and I just Loose. My. Shit.

“Oh my God. Princess Baby, Beautiful beautiful princess baby!” I squeal it, and then I kiss her cheeks and her tummy and her arms and I rub my nose against hers and smell her hair.

But, I guess that’s my right as a parent. How could I fight it?

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