So many unwritten posts live in my drafts folder. It’s not that I haven’t been writing– I’ve just not been writing blogs.
Happy Full Moon, Friday the 13th. Oh– and Mercury is in Retrograde.
I decided earlier this year to start moving my more political posts over to stephanielormand.com because the current political climate seems so well-suited with fiction writing. Most of the time I wish the news reports were actually fiction.
This isn’t a political rant, but rather a snicker moment with Elliot during a momsrising lobbying effort to reinstate NC’s EITC. Yes, I involve my kids in politics and have since this thing happened in DC.
Zach loves a good rally. He asks really good questions about why we are there, and with the innocence wonder of a child (and, okay, many adults) wonders, “but WHY would they DO such a thing?”
Elliot has two very specific political positions:
Poor kid, he can be very shy around large groups of adults. Except for that time in DC when he saw that NEW JERSEY gave out, not tiny peppermints, but FULL SIZE boxes of M&Ms. With his powerful swagger and rakish good looks he waltzed right in there and asked if he “could, hey, maybe get some of that candy.”
I waved at the dude from the hallway– if someone was going to tell an over-tired 4 year old “no” it wasn’t going to me.
But then? Today? In NC? Someone trumped NJ’s M&Ms with ice cream. That’s right, my friends, he spent the first 30 minutes rocking out in the NCGA with his own personal NC State ice cream.
A NC flag lapel pin, which he accepted with the same enthusiasm as a kid at Halloween getting the toothbrush. His “thanks” was a perfect mimicry of my own sarcastic use of the word.
But it wasn’t until we were a few stops short of my much-anticipated (but not actualized) visit to Representative Tillis’s office that Elliot really just came out of his shell.
Rep. Leo Daughtry, reading the paper, while his assistant makes conversation with Elliot: “You’re so handsome. You’re going to grow up and just have your pick of pretty girls to marry.”
Elliot, from around a mouth stuffed full of jolly rancher from the previous office: “Nope. I’m going to grow up and marry my friend, Landon. And maybe a cat. Most of the girls like princess stuff and, well, I just don’t much care for wearing a dress.”
Last year I wrote the following post about Memorial Day. Dealing with my own red, white, and blue childhood baggage while parenting small people pops the emotional seal on some long-packaged MREs.
Regardless of how I feel about war (especially those for oil, cough), my memories of that life aren’t diluted by third party accounts, or made-for-tv movies. My family lived this holiday, even if 2/3rd of us did so from the (secured) perimeter.
A child of the eighties, I grew up in military towns, with a career Army father and his career Army wife.
Being fully conscious of my emotional response *waves hand in big circle* to All Things Patriotic and Military should– but doesn’t– make dealing with it easier.
Once a child, it never occurred to me to wonder about various patriotic chanting; my child questioned saying the Pledge of Allegiance on the first day of school.
Once a child, I didn’t know anything different from green uniforms and long separations; those few civilian families with dads that came home every night were the oddities.
Once a teenager, I simply didn’t care. Too busy reminding my parents that I had not enlisted. Too busy being the selfish little bitch that still causes a wince when I think of it, twenty-ish odd years later.
Once a barely-adult, finally old enough to be told, and I cared, but only in the romantic my-dad-got-shot-in-war-once-and-could-have-died-and-then-I-wouldn’t-be-here way.
Self absorbed are the young.
Once a young adult, I Cared. With a focused riotous anger that smoldered during my mom and I’s battle with the Veteran’s Administration. Idealistic and unprepared, I waded directly into the jungles of my father’s memories thanks to the internet and stories of other combat veterans. To see these men, their wives, and their children rip open those scars in search of healing altered my reality in a way that nothing would again until the birth of my first child.
Learning that many scars become a symbol of pride, a (insert expletive) at fate’s attempt to take you out. Realizing that the scar on my father’s shoulder went far deeper than skin and muscle.
Understanding that even the scars worn with pride are often tainted with grief and guilt.
Now a parent, a full-on adult, I can appreciate how arduous full disclosure can be with children not emotionally capable of understanding that right and wrong occur on a sliding scale. How carefully stepping around blades of sharp reality leaves a parent with bloody feet and confused kids.
As a mother, it’s my fervent hope that neither of my children ever wear a military uniform.
Not because of a lacking pride, but rather because I know exactly how much that pride costs and I’m too selfish to pay up.
But for those of you left with a tattered receipt and rough memories– I spend this weekend with you in memoriam.
A debate with my husband Sunday morning:
JB: I don’t like this new system of folding laundry on the living room couch.
Me: I DON’T CARE– HENCEFORTH IT SHALL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.
JB: Now we just have clean laundry all over the living room. I’m putting it back on the bed.
Me: You agreed! Four times you’ve expressed your dislike for my new system; four times I’ve offered counter-arguments; four times you’ve ended the discussion with the word “okay”. That’s a contract, baby!
JB: I always thought it was sort of silly, but I didn’t want to argue about it those times.
Me: What you are saying right now it that you were NEVER okay with it, you lying-liar-pants! If you agree to something then you have to agree IN YOUR HEART. When a person feels strongly about the way something should be, they shouldn’t just cave to somebody else’s opinion because you don’t “feel like dealing”.
Note: both of our children hovered nearby**, their little sonar ears listening intently.
JB: I don’t think you are listening to me at all…
Me: Oh, I HEAR you. What I’m trying to explain is that THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT THE DAMN LAUNDRY. To be so attached to where a laundry basket rests is borderline insane. Everything about laundry, the piles of dirty clothes, the sorting, the washing/drying, the hauling up and down the basement stairs, the folding and sorting AGAIN. The dumping of it onto the bed, and then putting it back into the basket because no one feels like putting it away at midnight.
It’s a FEMINIST METAPHOR, dammit, for my lost identity. For the mundane, repetitive thankless tasks that WASTE minutes/hours/days/years of what remains of MY LIFE.
JB: Hey, I do laundry sometimes, too…
Me: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU! THIS IS NOT even about LAUNDRY! A METAPHOR. It’s A SYMBOLIC reminder of the slow LEACHING OF MY VERY SOUL from the over-large pores in my almost middle-aged skin. Each sock represents a lost dream, a forgotten goal, a missed opportunity.
JB: I’m just saying that I don’t like the laundry in the living room…
In the end, I agreed to move the laundry folding station back to our bed. I warned him that placing this symbolic representation of the death of my Self on our marriage bed might have consequences he hadn’t considered. That I wouldn’t be “getting back at him” for losing the basket placement argument, because I agree IN MY HEART for it to be there. But that I wanted to be certain he understood that a very unhealthy relationship had formed between the the laundry and my grip on sanity.
I’m just saying– warned.
Symbolic interactions create, and separate, our cultural identities. Symbols–not the ability to accessorize– separate human from beast. Consider the reactive moral outrage arising from the flames of burnt flags/bras/books/religious texts. Consider the passionate feeling that would prompt someone to that degree of vehement symbolic death. For example, I understand that the fabric of the American flag is only that, but I’d never set fire to one in protest, no matter how disgusted I am with my country. Why? Because I spent most of my formative years living on, or near, a military base.
Comprehending an individual’s culture attachment to, or rejection of, an object or idea does not require that I attribute the same degree of meaning. It only requires that I choose to accept another person’s perspective.
I accept that JB considers my rabid attitude about things like laundry to be tangible examples of my batshit crazy. Maybe it’s my too-many years of being surrounded by small people and their irrational attachments to objects and ideas. Maybe it’s a piece of my soul, trying to escape the lost sock drawer. I don’t know.
I’m not alone on this island where laundry, dirty dishes, and full trashcans become the desperate bat-symbol of a marriage overwhelmed by the tedium of living, of the repetitive arguments that never address the true problem.
One spouse screams as the chain of unmatched socks slowly chokes them to death, while the other one rolls eyes at another night of melodramatic nagging.
The malcontent has very little to do with the laundry/trash/dishes/toilet seat. It’s a METAPHOR, dammit.
**On children and hearing parents argue. I feel very strongly that my children should hear us argue (about things like laundry, use common sense, friends), and that we have an unmatched opportunity to demonstrate the appropriate methods of expressing anger and frustration.
My use of caps in this post is for effect– I wasn’t yelling. my voice sounds exactly like the squeaky teen that works at Krusty Burgers. We get angry, we argue. We don’t throw things, or curse each other (dammit does not count as cursing in my little world). No one is hitting, or threatening bodily harm.
That we are expressing intense frustration with each other without becoming violent is a very important life skill in America these days. Something the country certainly does not model very effectively.
Anger is a normal, human emotion. It happens occasionally, even between those that love each other very much. Pretending to never BE angry feels like something we do to “protect the children”. They aren’t fooled by stony silence, and all it teaches them is how to be passive aggressive. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
In fact, I hypothesize that when adults pretend to never get angry that it teaches the little preciouses how to swallow small bites of anger chunks until their tiny bellies are just over-stuffed, resulting, naturally, in you being sprayed in a surprise rage vomit.
No one enjoys a surprise rage vomit. No one.
Perfection/imperfection– it’s trendy to participate in the denial and/or acceptance of either phenomena. Headlines like “Perfect Abs in 30 days”; “How to hang the perfect curtains”; “Top 10 tips for Perfect blogs posts/SEO”; “How to write the perfect book.”
Or the B-side, “How to embrace your imperfect, messy, unconstrained, uncontrolled life.”
Is it any wonder so many of us struggle against our own neurotic insecurities?
I’ve been smothered under that quest for perfection– still struggle with it, but only with my writing– those damn commas. I am ever-wary of the grammar gurus reading through the internet, waving red styluses in moral outrage.
The quest for perfection doesn’t afflict me in any other way. Perfect body, house, children, and marriage? Ain’t nobody got time for all that.
My concern is for everyone trying to maintain a unicorn-rainbow-fart-esque life. What must it be like for those trying to hit that top rung called perfection?
Loaded up with my explorer gear, I began to gather data around my house. Could camouflaged perfection exist in my own home?
This is what I found.
The dishwasher broke last month…so these have no hope for the return to cleanliness without an intervention by someone with thumbs.
On the counter sits the tea party set from last week. At least it’s clean!
A dining room table, painted with a sticky finish immune to all scrubbing methods, covered in the detritus of my life.
A few weeks ago, after the third iteration of moving the same pile of laundry from the bed to the basket, basket to the bed I made a new rule: unfolded laundry would live on the living room couch. Brilliant, really. Now instead of reading on the couch (because it’s covered in clean laundry) I read in bed.
The other seat option in the living room– a chair full of books. Yes, we have several bookshelves.
The lego display table, an uncreative use of an antique vanity that has no other purpose. On this, only the best of the best lego creations. Or a grouping of legless minifigs.
My TARDIS office, intended as a creativity cave from which my ideas and plans enter for protection from the chaos. Then this happened as I prepared for the Listen To Your Mother Show. Have I ever owned so many bobby pins? Yes. Did I ever know the proper usage methods? No. I love youtube.
Perfection, however, remained stubbornly elusive. As far as the camera lens could see there existed something that needed to be cleaned, completed, or contained.
Then I found my perfection.
In the dictionary, where it had been all along.
I wake up in an, we’ll call it unpleasant mood— so most mornings sees my husband doing the breakfast/lunch making thing without me. An all day meeting meant he had to leave early today and I was a pleasant part of this morning’s meal. Pleasant being the important detail in that sentence.
My niece, a few month’s younger than Elliot came over Friday morning, the day after the last LTYM show. My brain was in a funky place as I dragged the dirty laundry downstairs, because one might as well jump feet first into ennui. I noticed a shoebox labeled tea set, forgot the laundry, and hosted a tea party instead. I pulled out my photo album from a long-ago “weekend trip” to London, and showed them both pictures of the Queen from a parade we happened to see. Then? Showing them the real London Bridge. Good times.
On that sticky table, a kindle fire– not mine, my 7 year old saved his extra cash for over a year to buy “something cool”. Remnants of this morning’s homework battle that turned into a series of amusing sentences about the habits of dragons. Two almost-empty cereal boxes from which I created “Cereal Medley”. A quill, because doesn’t everyone have a quill?
Clean laundry. Because it’s clean and in a few days of inattention will be worn and dirty again. Perhaps the lesson is that drawers, and the sorting of objects into them, is a waste of life.
The brown chair full of easy reader books. Every morning I poke and tickle Elliot into that chair after we drop Zach at school, because he HATES learning to read. Loves books– adores being read to– but has, with a stubborn insistence, refused all efforts to be taught. Now I didn’t teach Zach– he figured it out on his own. But he also didn’t have an older sibling reading “hard books”, and messing with his self-confidence.
An ugly brown chair, with creaky springs, that I slept in more nights than I can remember while nursing/soothing two infants.
The Lego table, affectionately referred to as the “Later Table” because it was once a surface to put items to be “dealt with later”. On it sits a Harry Potter set that my husband’s boss gave to the boys. And bits of the Lego Movie set… recreated and modified by my self-proclaimed Master Builders.
Bits of hair things and makeup things that sit in a spot, reminders of how I redecorated myself for a few evenings and that it could, technically, happen again.
I may have failed to find my unicorn, but in the meantime I discovered that I was content [kuhn-tent] with the contents [kon-tents] of my life.
A microphone stands alone in front of 300 empty seats.
The microphone waits to amplify your voice, shaky or strong, it doesn’t care. The empty seats don’t connect to your story, or laugh at your jokes.
Judgmental things, empty seats.
Writers write because their emotional health demands it. Writing isn’t necessarily the hard part; sending those stories unprotected out into the world of dangling participle bullies? Harder.
Performers give voice to another’s words; talented performers give such good voice that the audience can hear the author.
That empty microphone, those empty seats– I’m not a performer, is this even a performance? I’m not reading someone else’s fictional story; this is MY story, a piece of my nonfiction life.
The strength didn’t come from performing, but from the ripping off a piece of myself and leaving it flopping on a stage for a group of strangers. I owned the words they formed into sentences, but I can’t force a reader to invoke my emotional attachment to them.
The power in participating in Listen To Your Mother didn’t exist alone in the writing, or even in the telling, but rather from the attention of strangers, listening and feeling.
It’s the importance of being heard, amplified.
Over-caffeinated and nervous, dangerously close to being late, I hesitated at the bottom of the steps to this gorgeous historical home that I had admired many times in the past. I stood there, gathering myself up for the first group rehearsal for the Listen To Your Mother RDU. Could I do this? What would the others be like? The moment my inner dialogue started to fade, I noticed the children’s artwork decorating the antique leaded glass in the front door, and felt myself calm.
For about 10 minutes.
Introductions and label dropping– Executive/Program/Public Affairs/Interim directors, CEOs, Assistant Professors, Program Directors, Published-in-New-York-Times-Washington-Post writers, lawyers, and me- SAHM, sandwich crust remover.
Truth? Not since September 2002, in my first meeting in a room with Neonatologists and PhD Biostatisticians, have I felt so completely unnerved by others’ bona fides. I read, listened to each of them read; laughed, and cried– all the time thinking, “how did I make it in here?”
I went home and I doubted; then I brushed off my inner Stuart Smalley. You see, choosing to be a genuine part of this group of women with whom I would share a stage required that I see myself– and my story– as equally important. What I Learned, Take
1: Every personal story contains a sentence that will mean something to someone. Someone will hear a line you’ve written about your own life, and assign a meaning based on their own story. Personal stories are powerful–why do you think politicians enjoy them so much?
People talk, and write, a lot about life-altering experiences– total cliché’ right? I can get lost in my head for days thinking about how individual, seemingly meaningless, choices created events of Great Meaning.
Those lone-moment-social-DNA-molecules stranding together to form my long-term memory helices. It’s the momentum of a specific moment that goes forward to create– and recreate– my perspective on life.
What I Learned, Take 1: I practiced my essay while washing dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, showering; whispered it to myself while grocery shopping. I researched the clothing and shoe styles that best suited my body type and bought those items a full two weeks before the show. In other words, my preparation for this experience came from the exact opposite of my normal. On the Sunday before the show my husband asked if I was nervous about sharing my story in front of a crowd of people.
“No,” I replied. “I’m not nervous about that part at all. I do worry about knocking over the podium.”
“Oh. When’s the last time you performed on stage?”
“Well, it was the 2nd grade, so 1983? But it was a solo.”
The tech rehearsal? Standing in front a room full of empty chairs, trying to deliver your words in a meaningful way? Hard! Standing in front of a room full of people in those chairs– people interacting with your story? AMAZING.
I can’t tell you the first night’s show when I started to feel as if the 14 of us had stopped being individual stories, and had instead become a book of chapters. Perhaps it was the copious amounts of lipstick and eyeliner, or a side effect of the lavender oil overdose, or the moon passing through the end of a comet– I don’t know.
What I do know, with an unflappable certainty, is that my participation on that stage at Peace University with those women and that audience forever altered my path– and I know, I KNOW, that has made all the difference.
I don’t know how much time most of you spend thinking about fear, but the topic pokes around my brain enough to warrant a conversation.
I used to fear snakes– all snakes, pretty equally distributed across the entire reptilian species. Then I gave birth to a boy whose love of the reptile would eventual make him lizard king.
When the other moms complained about reading the same 20 page book every night, I was trying to hide the 400 page Guide to All Dinosaurs in Existence.
I mention all of this not to impress you all with my child’s lizard savantry– but rather as the back story for how this new person rose from the ashes of a woman who used to kill first, question later.
See, I needed to mow our naturalized urban landscape (why shouldn’t weeds get a fancy new name?), and since I’ve planted my foot firmly in hippie-dom, I was out there with the manual mower, casually answering Elliot’s 345,678 questions.
And sort of before I could really think about when my life changed so abruptly, I was standing there with a snake on a stick waiting for Elliot to get back with a small trash can.
Yeah, you read that correctly.
There he (she?) was, a perfectly harmless brown snake, now named “Scales”. Soon thereafter I answered “no” to the 34th iteration of “can we keep her as a pet” and off to the leaf pile she went.
Fear is an interesting, tangled up thing. It’s important, being afraid– just ask Mr Bunny Rabbit how “zenlike calm” works out in the face of a descending hawk. Fear drives flight from danger.
But when the danger isn’t really dangerous? What then, is fear?
By definition, fear:
is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined;
How do people stop being afraid? Assuming the fears aren’t clinical, then moving past fear has to involve hours, days, years, of telling yourself you aren’t afraid. Which then led me to…
There you have it. Go forth and self-delude and you’ll eventually find yourself holding your fear on the end of a stick for a close examination before shrugging and releasing it out into the wild.
Except for the palmetto bugs– they don’t count, because, really, snakes don’t FLY.
I’ve been writing this post in my head for over a month, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
The importance of being heard? What, hunh? It’s simple; once you strip away all of the nuance, the line-in-the-sand- advice, the pleas, the heartfelt and/or open letters to the media masses, the temper tantrums, the stubborn adherence to strict doctrine, the foundation mortared together with noise, what’s left is a grinding need to be heard.
I was chosen recently as part of the cast of this year’s Listen To Your Mother Show— and no, this post isn’t just a commercial, though I do hope that you find yourself scrolling back up to click on this link for show information and to purchase tickets. Or clicking it right now. Okay, that was a tiny commercial. Carry on.
I listened to the stories during our first read through and spent the rest of the evening completely overwhelmed at the depth of my emotional attachment to the stories of these women.
Imagine meeting your favorite viral post in person– it was like that.
In the weeks that followed I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. That from the first drawing on a cave wall, the first wail of a baby’s cry, the last breath before death, every moment in between centers around wanting to be heard.
The newborn baby cries for all of the reasons babies cry– hungry, wet, tired, scared, bored. Prior to identifying anything else about its surroundings, baby, barely more than an un-uterused fetus, already instinctively knows the vital importance of being heard.
The toddler crashes full-body to the ground, face purple with rage, arms and legs jabbing at you like a prison shank. Screaming with all of the twisted, powerful emotions coursing through his little body. Indignant, righteous fury at this injustice– neither relevance, nor rationality need apply– toddler asserts loudly, publicly about the importance of being heard.
See where I’m going here?
The elementary-aged children, beginning to learn in earnest the adult method of self-containment. My first grader reminds me of a can of biscuits– life rolls along, pleasant and calm and then BOOM. I’m surprised even when I know the can’s about to explode; more so when it occurs spontaneously from the backseat. It’s tricky, navigating this age. They struggle to balance the importance of them being heard, with the natural need for autonomy.
For two months I listened to my kid mumble grumpily about not having lots of stuff, about how haaarrrddd my husband and I are on him. For two months, any moment of consumerism requiring his participation filled me with irritation beginning at the first click of the fastening seatbelt. Until, finally, he confessed to being jealous of a classmate who had bragged about a 600 dollar a week allowance, and a 5-story house– neither of which containing a speck of truth.
Now from memory– mine– the middle- and high school children. Struggling through the importance of being heard by the right people, at the right time. At an age where being overheard by the wrong people, at the wrong time very much feels like the end of the world as you know it. My parents offered the well-intentioned advice on a how a future me would be completely unaffected by these humiliating horrors in contrast to my pre-teen/teenaged insistence that the only solution involved leaving the state. Their (true of most parents deep in battle with hormonal overlords) inability to hear me created a world where the importance of being heard transformed into the importance of remaining silent.
Nothing– none of this– goes away (or gets easier) as we grow older; as we settle into a young adult’s life of facebook, and twitter, and tumblr, and reddit. We being to navigate interpersonal relationships, boundaries within our own control. Sorta. Little things become Huge Things; simple tasks, like proper towel folding become a metaphor for demonstrative emotion.
Becoming parents– or not– we find ourselves banging against our drum of individuality, trying to reinforce the importance of being heard over a wall of background noise. The Pinteresting vs The Pinhating; The Elf Elite vs The Shelf Scorners; The Safety Rotors vs The Abduction Riskers; The Indignant Attendants vs The Indifferent Iphoners; The Village Dwellers vs The Validation Seekers.
When a gazillion people share a post about stopping holiday madness, and another gazillion people get self-righteous in their justification of house-destroying leprechauns, the original message of being overwhelmed gets swallowed by the static.
It’s not about everyone drinking a homogenized Hippie Peace and Patouchili smoothie, either. I can be comfortable in my paint-covered shorts while another mom is comfortable in her designer white pants. We can both wonder at how the other manages without the addition of scorn.
For me, the importance in being heard has nothing to do with anyone else’s priority list at all. It’s about strengthening my own voice, comfortably tucking into my own confidence, seeking my own council, and accepting that everyone just wants to be heard.
Now the challenge for me is not in the hearing, but in the listening. Double bonus points if I could learn to listen without offering solutions or advice.
What? Nobody’s perfect.
Y’all know how I feel about the chemicals… the **unregulated TOXIC chemicals that the chemical industry slides into infant pajamas because babies are oh-so-flammable**.
Any-who, Toxic Hot Seat happens to be playing tomorrow night at the Carmike 15 in Raleigh (5501 Atlantic Springs Rd., Raleigh, NC, 27616). I plan to attend, even after spending the day at the zoo with 126 of my favorite first graders, and one Elliot.
I understand that it is overwhelming to consider the long-term side effects of the slow poison seeping from each speck of flame-retardant-contaminated dust bunny (me = bringer of joy and happiness this evening, yes?). I am fully aware of how little consumer choice any of us gets– all thanks to the super, duper effective chemical company lobbyists.
I also understand that millions of dollars and scientific research hours were wasted on testing the safety of vaccines when a nation became horrified by the thought of injecting their small children with teeny tiny bits of chemicals. What I struggle with accepting is that this is the same nation of people that overspend for their BPA-free water bottles, because SAFETY, without ever realizing that these plastics are all now BPS-full.
You know what? I refuse to accept that I have to just sit back and take my spoonful of toxic sludge with my petroleum-laden food dyed sugar. Just. No.
At no other time in history have we the consumer had the opportunity to immediately point the finger at the corporations that are trying to dupe us in favor of their profit margin.
Here’s a funny– The American Chemistry Council works with PETA to make sure any legislation passed doesn’t needlessly harm innocent animals with unnecessary safety tests. Why pay for lab rats when they get our children for free?