Friday, April 20, 2012

Firestorm of Fury: Fabulous, Feisty Me

I have three amazing children that I love and adore and occasionally annoy.  Rarely, if at all.  They each have a slightly different viewpoint about me.  This is true more because they are each at a slightly different stage of adolescence and early adulthood, more so than the fact that I have ever wavered or altered the basic tenets of my parenting and or the basic sense of myself as a person. 

At the core, would be a feisty and fitful advocate of human rights, that may appear focused on feminine/feminist/female issues, but that is simply because I am a female and I seem to bump into a great deal of  issues related to being female, head-on, every day in one form or another.  Some cause a minimum of discomfort, others a firestorm of fury, a few a ho-hum what-else-is-new apathetic disturbance.  Of course there are so many other qualities, traits, quirky and dorky peccadilloes, ( I hate that word, which is in itself a peccadillo), and all around swell components of me as a person and parent but I will focus on the feminist feisty fabulousness of me for this particular entry.

My youngest son, who suffers the fullness of me, alone and unarmed has a heightened appreciation of me, or so I like to believe.  It may be more of a tolerance or acceptance or a ho-hum what-else-is-new apathetic disturbance in relation to me, but I think not.  Recently, he asked how my day was.  I shared a thing or two about work and the unprofessional fact that yet another person was assigned to work with me and my class in a supportive role and had naively shared that he had heard something along the lines of “difficult”,  “challenging”, ah what the hell, “bitch” in relation to me and a feisty fabulous feminist colleague.   My son, without missing a beat said, “Why does that surprise you?” or “What else do you think would be shared?”

When you are finished gasping, raising your eyebrows or standing up and shouting “Amen!”  Just settle down and be assured, very assured, he was saying something altogether different.  He adores my feisty fabulous feminist friend and he is able to see me differently through his observations of her.  And I was altogether, validated, humbled and perhaps a little bit ready to strut like a fine-feathered rooster or a proud….Bitch.  My son thinks I’m a little much on occasion, but he also knows that I am strong, capable, reliable, unwavering in my love and care, determined, careful and thoughtful in my decisions.  He knows that I have high-expectations.  He also knows that the expectations I have of others in my care have always been individualized and thoughtfully supported.  He knows that when I put a plan into place it has been viewed and examined from every angle and that it will be quickly altered or tweaked and reexamined at the sign of any stress points. 

He knows all of those traits can be attributed to, and summed up quickly and easily as “difficult”, “challenging” and at times, “bitch”.  "Why do you let it bother you?" he muses. He also knows and shares, this is the easy way out and it says a great deal more, (less, really) about the person saying it than it says about me.   He, like his siblings, have enjoyed the fruits of these traits.  They have also grown to be strong, determined, challenging individuals that expect much and will have difficulty settling for little.  A curse and a cherished gift, me, as their mother.

In my job, I need to rely on the support of others to keep my program functioning smoothly.  I have the honor of co-teaching with the like-minded fabulous, feisty, impeccably professional colleague, and consulting with a superb psychologist and supportive friend.  We occasionally need the support of additional administrators and “support” staff, for the most part we’ll call them.... “a few men”.  Support can’t occur unless there is a shared sense of what is being supported, why it is needed and how it is implemented.  The minute this is questioned  and second-guessed it is no longer support.  Or supportive. Being in a position as women needing the support of men, often brings out all sorts of deeply entrenched and damaging dynamics.  Certainly these can be overcome, but only with the support and collaborative acumen of all players at the table.  The fact that "the few men" are in positions that allow or block us from the game, has not been very helpful, to put it mildly.

The reality that we have worked in challenging programs for over ten years, each with a great level of success is rarely considered.  Disciplinary referrals, minimal need for behavioral intervention support overall, and the ability for the students to progress within our program is easy enough to review. But that takes a wee little modicum of effort.  It’s much easier to peg us as.... “women”. It's much easier to go with hearsay and rumors, to call us "difficult".  It is true, we are strong and capable.   Recently the word "confident" was bandied about  like a disease or negative strain of some such threatening pandemic in reference to my colleague.  I have been referred to as "serious" and "strong" with much disdain.  It is quicker to apply culturally acceptable norms and refer to us as “bitches”.  We are challenged at every turn.   And we are then seen as challenging.   Go figure!  We are frequently excluded from meetings, at times in misguided attempts to protect,  thereby perpetuating the very stereotypes that diminish our abilities to be treated professionally.   Other times we are excluded because we may have something to say.  Or we may actually want to improve our program and place expectations on others in an effort to make things better for all.  We don't make flip decisions or appreciate help that is self-serving or violates the very core of our educationally sound program philosophy.  Easy to work with, not always.  Easy to see how we may be seen as bitches?  Yes.  Quick approach  on the surface?  Yes.   In turn, condescending,  demeaning,  undermining.  Yes, yes, yes.  

Bitch?   No.  That’s not my name or my style or my professional standing.  Calling me such, is unethical and protected under some major legal system that I also don't have access to in a way that will support or illicit change.  And so this continues and demeans, and undermines.  

Fabulous, Feisty, Feminine Feminist?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Woman?  Oh, Yes!  Strong, capable, reliable, unwavering in my love and care, determined, careful and thoughtful in my decisions,  yes, that’s me.  Call me anytime.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Playing With Boys, A Tale of Self Reliance

My favorite 5 year old and his sidekick, my favorite three year old, let me play with them last Saturday morning.  Basically, that meant I had to do what they told me to do, the way they wanted to do things.  It started with me getting directed to stand on line near a fence to take turns swinging from the rings their father lovingly and I imagine, determinedly hung from a strong and sturdy tree in their yard.  My turn was the quickest and I am pretty certain I got short-changed a few times. You have to stay on your toes with these two.  Of course hanging from rings is not something I have had the opportunity to practice for quite some time, and they had the home-team advantage.  I will say, in spite of the fact that I was hanging from rings made for a 5 year old and his hearty sidekick, the three year old (fairly low to the ground) I stretched parts of my torso that hadn’t ever been stretched just to attempt to “hang” and not nearly walk around while holding said rings.  But that was eons ago, they had already run off to discover something else- smoke bombs created from throwing dirt, sticks to be poked and thrown, Ninja kicks and sudden attacks- back to shouts of “Hey, Gin-juh, watch this!”  and “Look at me!”

Occasionally I am directed, NOT to look, the three year old’s clever, yet transparent, attempt at not being caught doing something unpermitted.  Suddenly a shout and celebration of squishing a bug comes from another corner of the yard.  “I got it!”  He ninja kicks to establish victory.  I attempt my charm and intellectual prowess to stop the three year old in his tracks- “Oh No! Now what is going to happen to his wife and children? That bug was supposed to get home to his family.”  The 3 year old, stops and looks at me for a brief moment before he throws his head back and laughs heartily.  (He would pound his fist and drink merrily if he were allowed but he makes due with his limited props.)  “Ginnnn-juh- that’s a bug and that’s what they are for… Squishing!” He reminds.  I say, “How can you be so sure? And then, Oh great,” I lament, “His wife is probably waiting for the keys to the truck and wondering why her husband is soooo late- she has no idea someone just squished the ever living daylight…The five year old smiles, like he gets the innuendo-he does, he’s quick that way and gets the humor.  He then watches the three year old and feels a little older, wiser, in on the joke.   The three year old takes me on.  “Ginnnn-juh, bugs don’t drive trucks, they are bugs and you just squuuushhhhh them.”   He is sure.  Confident.  No questions, no concerns.  Unencumbered.  He runs off to find something else to squish, or kick or throw. 

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict.
                          -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moments later we are in his house and he has crawled up on his mother’s lap, curled, climbed, cozied as close as is possible.  Again, more of his certainty, this is where he needs to be and so he climbs and pushes, and nudges himself where he fits and will get held, loved and attended to.  It seems so easy.  So natural and reliable.  There is no negotiating and minimal requesting,  “Mommy can I come up here” he says as he has completed his climb and nuzzled his way up.   Fitting into her embrace created here, instantly for him only, in this moment, he rests.  He has conquered wild bugs, and swung through the air, or jungle, kicked the other ninjas and shot at imaginary villains.  I envy this freedom and certainty, mixed with abandon and assurance.  He is safe.  He can play wildly and be loved fully.

Being officially single again, I am enjoying, as well as fretting over, a new opportunity to date.  Except, dating seems to be this idyllic, just out of my reach, scenario that involves two interested parties spending time getting to know each other, while Burt Bacharach music plays in the background, and dogs romp while flowers blossom in the foreground.  Maybe there’s a beach to walk along, and of course a picnic basket, or bikes with baskets overflowing with bread and wine and no doubt roses.  But I don’t know, because like I said, this dating scenario seems to be just out of my reach.

Instead I get to “play” with men briefly, in the moment.  Innuendo, flirtation, more innuendo, a little blushing, a lot of blushing. Until I attempt to take this as an opportunity to totally figure out the best strategy to present my best self in some way-out there hope of getting it “right”.  It stops being play.  I fret, and attempt to make it “right”.  It gets more “wrong” and quickly.  The desire to crawl into a hole or join the…. (Nah, they wouldn’t have me) anyway, the insecurity and fear of hives comes quickly.   I am a little afraid to “play”.  I seem to need an endgame, or at least believe I do, or believe it is believed that I should…. That becomes the buzz-kill.  The idea of the end-game, rules that last more than 8-10 minutes or a couple of hours, if stretching it, gets in the way.  Ultimately the men have nothing else to do but take their balls and go home.  Or is that toys?  Innuendo, flirtation, buzzkill. 

You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account....

I’m ready to try a new approach, but I don’t know where to find one.  I’ve reached a point in my life that I have some of that security that my three year old friend needs to get elsewhere.  A lap would be a lot cozier but being self-reliant has it’s pluses.   That brings another potential pit-fall, self-reliance and my incompatibility with traditional roles and expectations.  The ones I am hyper aware of, and perhaps encumbered by, as well as the ones, I believe others may have for me.   Being, a wee bit overly self-reliant sometimes conveys strength.  Being strong often comes into opposition with being feminine, which may result in an intense or somewhat masculine-seeming need for power and control.  I don't need power so much as wanting to at least remain in control of myself (just for the record).  I am finding myself struggling with attempting to say out loud, I can be a little rough around the edges, slightly like a lumberjack after a hearty stew and a few dark ales, but date me anyway!   I might add, it’s a little off-putting.  At the same time, my somewhat slender frame (been running again) and 5 foot 6 inch stance with the right lighting and well-fitted garb also tricks things up.  I don’t LOOK like a lumber jack.  It makes it rather hard to peg me. 

Maybe my new approach should include lumberjacks.  I imagine they are fairly good at getting pegs to fit.  In the mean time, I need to learn to relax.  To not worry about the end-game or the next game for that matter.   I need to honor myself, and all of the quirky, complex, machinations of what that means in any given time and place.   I am self-reliant.  I enjoy building and making things with my hands one moment and finding rocks and rusted artifacts the next.  Occasionally, I like to fix things or mend torn garments.  I can hike great mountains, well at least up to 5000 ft anyway, and set-up a pretty rad wilderness camp experience.  I am gaining speed in creative pursuits and becoming a bit more adventurous in my cooking.  I can do some snazzy electrical wiring and my soldering skills are not too shabby.  I can hum a sweet tune and whistle a tad.  For the most part, I can get by pretty sweetly.  Being self-reliant is somewhat at the core of who I am.   I am getting closer to this acceptance and with much appreciation.  I find it greatly attractive in others as well.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. 

I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was onto something here.  I will probably never conform to most “female” roles and customs, but I have been making strides in being ok with that.  Just like the immortal song goes …"I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK….", were there any hopeful lyrics about the dating potential of lumberjacks in that song?

Excerpts from Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weathering the Storms: Blue Skies from Now On

Sometimes life just comes down on you.  Slams you but good.  Sometimes it comes even harder, just to remind you, who’s in charge.  It’s hard to get out from under all this “life”.   Sometimes. 

Sadly, there seem to be some of us living vast portions of our lives with dark clouds hovering, right to left, back and forth, just above us.  Blocking the sun from shining even dimly on what may appear as meager blessings, the dark clouds, hover.  While others still, seem to beckon the clouds, adding to the hard times, crafting turmoil as they project their own demise and downfall.   Some like to inflict their pain and spread grief believing somehow, they have some great authority over others.  I believe, with the right disposition and the proper attire, we can all weather just about any storm.

Sometimes this life just comes down hard, a torrential downpour of dismay.  It might be helpful to remember to carry your umbrella, or become aware of the slight subtleties of cloud formations and transformations, or the screeching turmoil being hurled your way and quickly take cover.  The clouds will pass, eventually, sooner if so desired.

Life comes and keeps coming whether we are ready or not, willing or willful. I happen to love this life, hard times and all.   All right, I don’t love the hard times but I have certainly gained some big and meaningful insight from some of my hardest times.  I have learned to walk away in spite of waiting out a few stormy skies or years, or decades.  In doing so, my days have become fuller and brighter.  My spirit has grown lighter.  I have discovered that I have this dreadful capacity to talk myself into believing in the most unbelievable and tolerating the most intolerable.  My awareness of this capacity has taught me that honesty must be self-directed even more so than upholding an expectation of those around me.  In being more honest with myself I have been able to break free of a controlling and abusive past and I have been able to live my life more aligned and in keeping with a value system that celebrates life, and compassion and integrity.  I have been able to sift through some dark and seemingly debilitating moments, and I have come out stronger, if not a bit wind swept. 

I know life is going to come down on me at times.  Occasionally, I get knocked down by it, but it keeps coming regardless and I can choose to lie down and let it sweep over me, or I can find my ground and stand up to it.   Of course this isn’t always easy to do and I have had more than a few bruised and battered run-ins with this life.  I was blessed, or cursed with resilience and resolve.  I had for some time allowed the dark and gloomy clouds of others to conceal my blessings, and I have also allowed myself to accept with some sense of resolve that I could endure the gloom. I could not.  And happily, I have resolved that I will not again endure the self-made gloom of another.

I was taught explicitly that life was hard.  I can summon up the pearls of wisdom that became a mantra in my childhood home.  “No one ever said life was fair, Ginger, or easy” was frequently snickered by a mother slammed down with the lives of four wiry kids and just barely enough resources to feed and clothe them, leaving less for replenishment or reflection.  I must have been reporting and reacting to unfairness at regular intervals, the mantra was repeated in kind.  The message was received but I kept it at arms length.  Or so I thought.  Bit by bit, I became convinced that life was hard and I just had to somehow endure the hard times.  I had not only allowed it to move in closer, I embraced it, and then I had worn it like the tattered cloak of a martyr.  Not exactly a passive approach, but my grievances became ineffectual and habitual.  Like cloud cover that intonates a brewing storm but barely produces drizzle, gray and gloomy just the same.   Sometimes like a thunderstorm so sudden and threatening but barely wetting the ground, again not making much impact.

I decided to transform some of my beliefs and thoughts regarding life and it’s weather patterns.  I have learned to dress accordingly for the weather and I have learned when to secure the storm windows and batten down the hatches.   I have always loved thunderstorms and dramatic weather.  I can recall the thrill and excitement of a few passing hurricanes off the coast of Long Island, safe within my parents watch.  I have also learned that loving thunderstorms does not need to be a metaphor for my relationships. I can appreciate a storm from a bright and sunny vantage point.  This is the only way to see the rainbows and sunbeams that shine upon my blessings. 

I have also learned a little more about cloud formations and there may be a metaphor that applies after all.  Clouds change.  Often.  They are transformative.  Such as life, a cloud can undergo complete internal transformations, changing from one genus into another.   When this occurs, it’s name changes to the name of the appropriate genus followed by the name of the mother-cloud genus and the addition of mutatus. Allow me to attempt to describe my transforming disposition, metaphorically speaking:

I think I had allowed myself to become a Nimbostratus NimboStratoCongestusmutatus a dark cloud, drizzling with a pile up of dread, more or less low to the ground.  I then moved into Cirrus CirroFractusmutatus.  Detached, fractured, moving toward white and fibrous with a silky sheen and killer smile.  I am currently experiencing AltoVertebratusRadiatusPerlucidusgenitus.  I have stopped the internal transformation and am staking my claim on the high road, above it all, with a backbone, rays of light and hope, and a protective covering that allows the sun and the moon and blue skies to be seen.   From here on out?  Blue skies, nothing but blues skies from now on……