The Certainty of Gray

One of the great joys of being in my 40s has been understanding the significance of other people’s revelations. In my 20s and 30s if someone was dieting or training for a race I felt an immediate wave of shame for not being in pursuit of the same goals. It was exhausting, unproductive, and almost impossible to conquer. Now when I see someone moving toward a goal I am able to see it for what it is—something meaningful to someone else. I can celebrate their climb, learn from their experience, or just go about my life.

I read a post from a friend the other day that made me smile from ear-to-ear. Deborah is a woman who seems to be made of go. The way she parents her daughters, partners with her husband, and hustles and risks for her work, is dizzying in the best kind of way. We met at a conference years ago thanks to Danielle Smith, and have been friends ever since. After spending more time with her at the Mom2 Summit in May, she became more real to me. I read her posts and updates in her voice, I remember the things she confided to me about balance and exhaustion. When something would annoy me or make me doubt, I’d hear her voice, “Amanda, that’s nuts” or “Girl, you are up here compared to them,” holding up her hand and then wiping her face and blurting about the heat. Deborah was my favorite character in a novel come to life and set down in my world. I haven’t taken that gift lightly.

 

 

When I saw her post, The Moment I stopped Caring What Other People Think of Me, I immediately clicked. It feels like everyone writes about conquering doubt or throwing caution to the wind, but somehow I knew hers would be different. I knew it would be about releasing the grip on self-doubt and meaning it.

That was a 10-day trip of just letting stuff go. Then all this past week, at home, I took the girls to our clubhouse pool and by Wednesday I realized I didn’t care who looked at me or what they thought. I realized, I’m just as awesome as my kids think I am. Slowly, I’ve been finding myself letting go of the expectation of who I think I’m supposed to be and am beginning to love who I am because damn it, I’m pretty awesome.

She has a passage in the post about needing to do it for her daughters, but between the lines what I saw was that it was for her in a new way. Getting back to the gray in the post title, I am discovering that the more I age and become certain about what I know and believe, the grayer it all becomes.

Yes, we do things for our daughters, but in the not so distant horizon is a time when our girls will be women and off on their own. Will we stop? Or is it ok to realize before they leave that we are worthy of care too? Must we insist on assigning the impetus for our growth on something other than wanting to feel good?

I speak up because I have to, I grow quiet because I need that too. I lay the groundwork and do the brutal shopping to look professional and put together, then I say “Pffft,” and yank my hair in a bun and slip into jeans and say, “This’ll do.”

The more black and white things become in my life the more I see that gray is a constant and, if I really explore how I feel about that, I am grateful for it. For every time that I’ve woken up or met the end of the day thinking that I am old and past the best of whatever I was going to have, I have a moment of clarity that reminds me joy and contentment are not in invisible pores or days without deadlines.

Delight and heartache are laced together, sometimes coming at once, other times eclipsing each other. When my back inexplicably aches in the morning I find a way to dab a bit of purple and white into the gray until I have tendril of lavender looping between black and white.

Wishing us all the courage to mix a bit of color into the gray.

 

 

Barefoot and Hopeful

We left home in a break between squalls. The sky was a pendulous presence above and the clouds, at once stormy and ethereal, followed us the whole drive. Sean was ahead of us with “the boys” as Finley put it. Beso, our cocker spaniel, and Pippin, our male tabby were riding amid the potted plants, tools, and signs Sean had packed for camp. Briar was still in Paris, so it was Finley and Avery, with Luna, our moody calico, in a small animal carrier in my car, along with fresh towels and other things I’d packed.

The week had been a whirlwind of meetings and photo shoots, takings us as far as New Hampshire, as we entered the first full week of the girls’ summer vacation.It’s never easy, but in all the years, I’ve never remembered it being quite this frenetic. By the time we’d dropped the animals off at camp and inhaled a dinner at our favorite local joint, I was in a state of decompression that seemed to be happening without me. You know those times when your mind or your body take over because you have so completely failed to assert yourself?

Sean walked the girls back to the car as I hoofed it to the grocery store a block away. I listened to their voices fading as they walked one way. I turned away from the restaurant and into the small adjacent lot. It has a garden of sorts and the lands is a bit wild. I looked around and before I’d really thought it through my shoes were off. I wiggled my toes in the grass and looked up at the sky. Laughter was bubbling up in the back of my throat and I knew that in shucking my shoes I’d let go of so much more. Not forever, but the trick is that we don’t need to let go forever, we just need the wherewithal to allow ourselves a bit of treading barefoot instead of treading water. We need to unlace and unfasten, so that we can be reminded of the benefit of dirt under our nails and night air on our face.

 

The pull to kick off my shoes went straight to my core. Before I knew it, they were off and the grass and clover were cool and damp beneath me.

 

My last real act of doing in the month of June involved walking barefoot beneath a starry Vermont sky. The next day I held onto that idea of letting go. I jumped in the water with my girls and danced in the waning sun because taking off our shoes and setting aside our worries comes in many different forms, we just have to be willing to accept them.

 

 

Are you ready? Can you flip off your shoes?

 

Life Isn’t the Same After #WonderWoman

Saturday afternoon I used my phone to buy seven tickets for a Sunday matinee of Wonder Woman. It was, quite honestly, a pain in the ass because the Regal app was persnickety and I didn’t have my wallet so I had to borrow a card from Sean. Sometimes this sort of thing would annoy me and send me into a “Well, I guess it isn’t meant to be” defeat. Not this time. It was too important that my contribution to the first weekend of the movie be recorded.

Talk with your wallet. Stand up for things that matter. It was the same thing with backing Rebecca Woolf’s Kickstarter campaign for Pans. I want movies made with girls in mind as more than arm candy, victims of violence, hollow foils, and set dressing.

“Don’t politicize it.”

“Can’t it just be a movie?”

“What do your politics or your gender have to do with a movie?”

“Everything,” I say at first in a quiet voice.

Silence.

“They mean everything. It is all connected,” I spit.

 

 

 

 

“Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.”

 

Every non-essential sexual assault used to prove a female character deserves help.

Every female character who gets stripped down and left to bleed with her breasts exposed.

Every magazine cover with a female star in underwear & her male costar in a suit.

Every homely sidekick female.

Every twenty-something playing the love interest of a septuagenarian.

Every Piers Morgan who says we can’t show our cleavage after it stops turning him on.

Every film critic who says women can’t sell movies.

Every director who tells a woman to lose weight.

Every bad action flick made without a second thought given to women.

Every girl who has to wear a pink version of a superhero costume.

Every time we are asked,”What were you wearing?”

Every President who grabs us by the pussy.

It is all so connected.

 

I will politicize the hell out of this. Because my politics are relevant, my body is mine, and my reality is impacted by the politics and apathy of others. I won’t ask anyone to forgive me for being shrill and I will not tolerate anyone telling me this movie didn’t matter. Legislators tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies, schools tell us what our daughters have to wear so that they male students and teachers aren’t distracted, conferences still have booth babes.

 

 

 

I did my best to get along with the one female action figure of my youth, vying to have Princess Leia, but sharing her with my neighbor and accepting the need to use Hans Solo or Lando Calrissian when it has her turn to have the sole female. There should have been more than one chick. It’s true that this shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.

Diana was not created for men. She wasn’t there to make a man look virile, she wasn’t there to be without flaws. She was human well, superhuman. But she made mistakes, blended humor and gravitas, emotion and hope. The panoramic shots of the Amazons in the early part of the movie were not overtly sexualized. Yes, their costumes were fierce, yes, their bodies were glorious. The scenes were not mash ups off writhing, oil-slicked bodies with faces blurred. It was shot after shot of strong, capable women.

There was a part of me that wanted it to start to feel normal, to not sit in complete, speechless awe of it all. I wanted it to feel less significant, but I kept thinking, “I put my hundred dollars in. I want to watch it again, want to reinforce that I am here for this.” Attending this movie felt like an act of resistance and a declaration of existence.

I am here.

We are here.

My throat tightened and my nose stung and I let the tears come as I watched a movie that I was proud of surrounded by my family.

Robin Wright kicked ass.

Connie Neilsen was fierce.

Patty Jenkins did it!

Chris Pine was different. <— that may not seem like praise, but it is.

This movie was different and yet it was still able to be a seat-of-the-chair movie.

“I don’t want to be a supermodel; I want to be a role model.”
Queen Latifah

 

My girls have searched for costumes that weren’t mini-skirt versions of heroes. They’ve been mocked for their choices. A Black Widow, a Maleficent, and an Elsa. Tell me they aren’t all craving strong female role models. Yet the stores don’t carry Black Widow dolls, we made the Maleficent costume and because I can’t sew a mini-dress was the only option.

 

“I feel that I’ve got the opportunity to set a great role model for girls to look up to a strong, active, compassionate, loving, positive woman and I think it’s so important,” Gadot told the magazine. “It’s about time that somebody will do that and I’m very privileged and honored to be the one.”

 

Boys and men don’t have the market cornered on the desire to be strong or capable. I’m not sure where we were when it was decided that the benchmark for men would be related to success and strength and for women, it would be beauty and how little space we take up.

I want to be as loud and as powerful as the surf and to have my daughters do the same.

 

 

“I hear many young women say they can’t find well-known feminists with whom they identify. That can be disheartening, but I say, let us (try to) become the feminists we would like to see moving through the world.”
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

 

Go see Wonder Woman. Go write a story. Go change the world.

 

 

A Quarter Turn to Beat the Rut

Most mornings I make my way over to the woodstove room. I tuck my legs up beside me in one of the chairs and sip my coffee. It isn’t particularly restful or restorative, more a comfortable routine. The other morning I went into our living room to fold up a blanket that had been left behind after watching Anne of Green Gables with the girls. It was still in the mold from the night before—a hollow space where shoulders and knees had been.

I set the blanket on the back of the couch and then instead of leaving I sat down. The morning light touched my face. I leaned into it and exhaled. When I opened my eyes I looked back toward where I usually sit. That side of the house looked dark. I turned back to the window and then caught my shadow to the right. The sunlight through the leaves made the light move like water and the kinks and points of my bedhead looked more Midsummer Night’s Dream than Nightmare on Elm Street.

Funny that one tiny decision and I’m smiling instead of floating through the motions. I began to consider how my routine can sometimes perpetuate the very thoughts I try to unseat. It makes perfect sense that a small change could influence my attitude. Thinking about all the ways it might work beyond my morning coffee—where I park, the sites I visit online, the words I use.

Yesterday, completely without any sort of, “Let’s see if I can make someone’s day a little brighter” I was passing a woman in the bathroom in our office building. Her dress was impossibly cheerful, white with bright flowers that moved up from the hem toward the waist and were echoed by a row along the neckline. I was about to close the stall door when I blurted, “Fun dress!”

I think we were both surprised. There is a kind of unwritten rule of no conversation in the bathroom. She giggled, she does not look like someone who I’d call a giggler. I smiled and then she launched into a cheerful exclaim about how if the weather wasn’t going to feel like spring, at least her clothes could.

I did it again in the stairwell later in the day with another woman I don’t know. “Gorgeous dress,” I said as I raced down the stairs. “Thank you so much,” she called back with a laugh. I heard that laugh and the giggles from earlier over and over again throughout the afternoon,

The thing I am learning is that we cannot have it all. I don’t say this as an exclusively female thing or solely related to work life balance, I really mean that there is always something we could do better or that saddens us. Our best hope is to keep turning our focus, a little bit here, a little bit there. Even the most valiant warriors or devoted students must rest.

Smile at someone, maybe even yourself. Sit in a different chair, turn into the sun, or into yourself. It might be the easiest way out of a rut and onto a place with a new perspective.

 

A World Without Planned Parenthood is a World in Pain

The first time I went to Planned Parenthood I was about 17. I didn’t think that I knew everything, but I thought I knew exactly what I was ready to handle. They continued to be my primary resource for health care until I was 30. When I look back on that 13-year stretch of my life there are many memories that make me cringe.

 

How did I survive?

What the hell was I thinking?

Was I even thinking?

 

The thing I never considered before this last year of political improbability was what if Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there for me. I certainly think about what will happen if my daughters don’t have it as a resource. The time it took for toddler Amanda to grow to a mom of tweens happened faster than I ever imagined.

 

 

I remember going in for an annual exam. I was barely twenty. It had been several years since I was sexually assaulted, but I still couldn’t make it through an exam without silently weeping, tears pooling in my ears.

“Are you ok?” the doctor asked me.

I nodded, my nose stinging.

“Are you in pain?” She said gently.

“No. I just hate this.”

She worked swiftly and quietly when she was done she patted the side of my calf. “You’re all done.”

I sat up awkwardly.

“No one likes these exams, but it’s so important that you do them,” she said. I nodded and tried to stifle my sniffles. “Were you assaulted?”

“Yes.”

“You are brave and strong. Don’t forget that. I’ll let you get dressed now,” and she slipped out the door.

I needed to hear those words, but she didn’t need to say them. Those words helped me, and I don’t just mean that they made me feel ok about myself. What that doctor said was literally the difference between bailing on all manner of professional health care and having a place where I felt safe and worthy to be seen.

Planned Parenthood cared for me and protected me and my future in ways I didn’t yet know how to do for myself. It’s why I am using this space to speak out against the AHCA and the “defunding” of Planned Parenthood. We need voices for women and the LGBTQ community, specifically their health and well-being.

But what if…

What if Planned Parenthood weren’t here, not for some person in the middle of a place you don’t know, but for me, someone whose story you have come here to read. Would it matter? Is there a George Bailey side to this?

I’ve been reading a lot about “stealthing” and while we may not have had a term for it twenty years ago, it did exist.

Wrangling my girls each morning, counting lunch boxes, checking bags, my heart skips a beat when I think of what might have happened, where I’d be without PP.

I would still meet up with the boyfriend who penetrated me without my consent and shushed into it being ok, “We were going to get there eventually. It’s no big deal.”He disregarded my insistence on a condom, bullied me into things I didn’t want to do. Without Planned Parenthood I would not be with these girls. I would not be their mom, or Sean’s wife, or maybe even here.

I would have been tricked into pregnancy in my twenties. I would not have found people who would treat me without question or judgment, but more than that, I would have gone too long without seeing someone or being seen. I would have written it (me!) off as not being something that I could manage—too hard, too expensive, too complicated, too intimidating.

I was a smart girl from a good home, but it can be easy to fall through the cracks, particularly with elected officials who aren’t advocating for you, who in fact are pretending as if you don’t exist or matter. Really none of that should matter, we should all have the care, counsel, and guidance that we need to make informed choices about our health.

 

It’s why when Planned Parenthood calls I answer, I fight for a world with Planned Parenthood.

 

 

I was not one of the most vulnerable, but as I stand today, a mom to three daughters, a survivor, and a resolute believer in the importance of Planned Parenthood, I #StandWithPP for those most threatened by the potential loss of Planned Parenthood.

 

 

 

Please call your Senator, speak to your neighbors, your children, your partner, and even yourself. This isn’t a little thing, Planned Parenthood can be the single greatest safety net for women and their health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Health Care Act is the worst bill for women’s health in a generation. Cherry picking just one way in which the bill hurts women:

Reduces women’s access to no-copay birth control. While the bill does not specifically repeal the no-copay birth control benefit, the fact that millions of women will lose coverage means they will no longer have access to no-copay birth control. Under the ACA, more than 55 million women gained access to no-copay birth control in the private insurance market, and approximately 16.7 million women benefit from Medicaid coverage, which also covers birth control at no cost. Paying out-of-pocket for birth control pills can cost a woman up to $600 per year, which is simply unaffordable for many young women and people with low incomes. A recent poll found that 33 percent of women could not afford to pay more than $10 for birth control.

Here are things you can do!

This post is made possible with support from the Mission List. All opinions are my own.