Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sorry I'm not sorry

I've been helping my 16 year old niece read Emerson: Self Reliance for her high school English class this past weekend.  Sometimes I forget how much he's infiltrated my brain over the years.  All of a sudden I felt the familiar speeches coming back to me that I had given my younger sister over the years--not caring what people think of you, being your own person, thinking for yourself, and being a good person for the sake of your goodness.  But this time, they are colored with years of experience. A decade and a half of growing up, you could say.  It's been a long time since I sat down with my little sister and tried to tell her everything I thought she needed to know to do well in the world and find herself.  I was a child myself.  By some miracle, we both ended up strong, educated, successful women by most people's standards. Not that I ever gave a shit what anyone thought of me or my journey to finding out who I am or what I stand for.  As any of my readers know, the journey continues full force.  I have felt for a long time that there was a small hole in my heart where my little sister used to look to me for advice.  Don't get me wrong, nothing thrills me more than seeing her not need me to make big decisions in her life.  I've always thought that the goal of having children is to raise adults who are strong enough to leave you.  And really, she never left me.  She just joined me as an equal adult.  If that doesn't deserve a gold star, then nothing does.
I have met quite a few young women over the years who could benefit from some big sisterly advice and I was very proud that they had picked me to listen to.  When I became pregnant with my daughter, I knew that one day I would be giving the same speeches to her.  I can't tell you how happy it makes my heart to have more young faces look up to me and listen with rapt attention to my advice about the world.  My nieces have always been a large part of my life. In fact, when I was 19 I moved to Orange County to take care of my little baby doll and soon after her sister.  I think you pay closer attention to your actions and how you present yourself when a pair or two of small eyes are watching.  A few years ago, the talks we had were still fairly light hearted.  We've had many conversations about boys, love and sex.  We daydreamed about cars and college.  I reminded my girls that jr high and high school with be some of the most trying times in their lives so far and made them promise not to do any permanent damage to themselves because one day it would all be very small in their memories.  Mostly, I promised to always be there for them, whether they needed a midnight rescue, a talk about something uncomfortable, or just someone to listen.  I don't take these promises lightly. 
I was grateful to have the opportunity to give my oldest a car for her 16th birthday.  I was so proud when she got her first job, and I couldn't be more excited to take her an her sister up the coast of CA for a tour of colleges this upcoming weekend.  My baby doll, as I've called her for 16 years, told me she plans to leave after high school to start her life at college.  She reminded me of the advice I'd given her when she started high school.  "Get good grades so that you can get into any college you want.  That is your ticket to freedom.  You are in control of your life, just stay focused and you can do whatever you want." She listened to me.  Damn straight and I'm going to help her get there in any way that I can.  She's a lifeguard now, giving swim lessons and responsible for other people's lives.  My little girl who once ate so much spaghetti and chocolate milk that she threw up on my bathroom rug.  She carries herself with a calmness and confidence that reminds me a lot of myself. She's also the spitting image of me, but shorter with much prettier eyes.  These days instead of taking her and her sister for a weekend once a month, they help me watch my 4 year old while I sit on the couch pregnant and tired.  I've also noticed how much our talks have changed the past few months.
She wanted to talk about the shooting in Isla Vista and violence towards women this past weekend.  I was lucky we had a couple hours alone uninterrupted.  Let me tell you, there hasn't been a more gut wrenching talk that has happened between us thus far.  Well my darling, my first born little girl who I love like my own, let me tell you about the world we live in and what you are up against now that you are driving around alone and at night.  This is a world where men will hate you for being a woman.  Men feel entitled to your body because they are men and you are a woman.  This is an epidemic that spans every city, every age group, every single place you go, every single day of your life.  And I can't protect you.  You can't protect you.  In this world, the woman is told how not to be raped or attacked.  We are shamed for being assaulted and expected to feel damaged, dirty, and ashamed.  You will be faced with two choices: you will admit defeat, cower and hide from all men, good and bad, or you will stand tall and fight back.  This is a silent fight and it will be the hardest one of your life because it never ends.  Not all men are bad.  Not all men will hurt you, but princess, you have no idea when one will and which it will be.  Stranger on the street, the boy you are dating, friend of your best friend who happens to be in the same room.  You will be verbally abused, threatened, and possibly physically assaulted.  By her age I had already been raped.  I hope she is one of the few who this doesn't happen to.  I told her that I go where I want, I roam the country freely, and I am not afraid.  I am aware of my surroundings and am as safe as possible, but I do not hide.  I refuse to be ashamed of how I look or falter in my right to say no to any man who wants me that I do not want back.  It's not fair and goddamn it I can't protect her.  I can't protect any of my nieces, my daughter, my friends, or even myself.  She looked so sad as I talked to her, but I saw the flicker of defiance in the back of her eyes.  I live to be the example for her to follow.  This is about strength, little one.  Stand tall and don't stop living your life because something bad might happen to you one day. 
This speech has changed so much over the years.  I guess a mother in her 30s sees the world differently than a 21 year old sister who is trying to find her way.  As it should.  I wish I had a better story to tell, but I'm glad she's asking me to tell it.  She tells me that nobody else talks to her about this stuff.  Then I'm exactly where I should be, aren't I?  I reminded her that it will be her job to look after my little girl and be there to give her the same talks and she smiles at the responsibility in front of her.  We're all here to take care of each other, aren't we?  That's what your family is, blood related or not.  As we've been reading Self Reliance together, it's spawned so many more talks that need to be had and I'm smiling to myself thinking of the things I want to says to her.  I'm laughing at how those words of wisdom have become so much wiser since my sister was 18 and we had talked about the very same subjects.  Ah Emerson, you're like a gateway drug to amazing conversations between parents and their children.  Maybe that was the plan all along to assign difficult reading to kids so that their parents would have to explain it to them.  I'm lucky that I was the "parent" picked for this assignment because I have plenty to say.
As it turns out, my mind is still as full of questions as ever when it comes to who I am and what I stand for.  I've ironed out the basics: I know I'm a good person who values being fair, doing the right thing, and being honest above most everything else.  I know that the notion of goodness and honesty is universal and cannot be ascribed to one religion or way of doing things in any part of the world or at any time in history.  I know how to put my children and family first.  I know that I am in control of my own happiness and with it comes benefits to everyone around me.  I have learned that the only opinion that counts in my own.  I have been accused of being many different things over the years, whether they were said by people close to me or not.  I know that being true to myself if more important than becoming the witch in anyone's witch hunt.  These things are worth fighting for, repeatedly.  It's the details I get lost in, which is why I still need to write so much I think. 
So much has happened to me since I was pregnant 5 years ago.  More changed in my life than I ever could've anticipated, including my ideas of what I think it means to be a mother, what sexy is, and what makes me feel good about myself as a woman and in a relationship.  Turns out I'm the kind of woman who believes in sending her man sexy pictures.  Can I do that pregnant?  Well my husband went to East Coast to visit his family and I gave it a try.  Apparently I can still make the blood drain from his head with a pic of my backside.  Feeling sexy while pregnant is a completely foreign concept to me, nevermind actually having sex.  I remember trying to figure out how to be a sexual being while I was a single mom. Now I'm doing it while pregnant.  It's something to adjust to.  I find myself much happier and much more proud of my body and what it's doing this time around than last time.  I'm 22 weeks pregnant and I've gained 7 lbs so far.  I find myself not wearing a lot of maternity clothes, including my bikini in public, because fuck it. I feel good, so I don't care.  I wonder what will happen after my son is born.  Will I feel compelled to wear a one piece again or will I take out my super sexy bikinis?  I'm betting on the latter, because it's a whole new me. A more evolved one with a better understanding of who I am and what makes me smile.
I want to tell you that I've grown up and I've got it all figured out, but that sounds a bit egotistical for the age of 34.  What I can tell you is that I've learned a lot so far and I'm looking forward to learning more.  I know now that loving someone is not enough to keep a marriage together.  I'm nothing but grateful for things like counseling that keep me learning more and more about how to make things work between myself and my husband who may literally be from a different planet, if not just side of the country.   I'm writing, thinking about how one day my daughter will be a teenager and her brother not far behind and wondering who I'll be at that point.  In four years, I've learned to eat better, exercise more, turn off the tv, not look at my phone unless it's through the camera lens when my kid is around, and dedicate myself to developing her brain academically and emotionally.  I do my best to lead by example.  When you see the benefits bloom in front of you, it doesn't feel like such an uphill battle anymore.  It seems more like a walk down the beach with no end in sight.