Gus’ Birth

As always, my birth stories are no-holds-barred.  Proceed with caution.

Monday morning was a fun morning – my friends Marlee and Taulbee brought their boys over to play. We hadn’t seen each other in years, and it was great to catch up and meet their sweet little ones. The girls had a good time with their new friends, and it was the first time they were outnumbered by boys. Nap time came around as it does, thankfully, and later I would find myself supremely grateful that I took the opportunity to take a quick cat nap. When we got up from our naps, I took the girls outside to play – the weather was warm and I was ready to take advantage of it after all the cold and rain of the last few months. Because of how uncomfortable I was, I tried my best to just sit and watch the girls play, but that only works some of the time when you have littles. Scarlett had an emotional breakdown while we were outside – she cried and cried and cried and cried about everything and anything under the sun. I finally called James and let her talk to him, and that helped cheer her up. Eventually 5pm rolled around so I rounded the girls up and we headed back inside. I seasoned some ground turkey and formed hamburger patties and then put them in the oven to bake while I took the girls upstairs for a bath. They were so excited to splash in the tub and were two giggling, naked little things just enjoying life, the previous worries and tears forgotten. James came home and took over bath time while I headed back downstairs to work on dinner. When the girls came back downstairs I helped them get dressed in their pjs while James worked on finishing up dinner – I was so uncomfortable that James encouraged me to sit down while he put everything together. We sat down at the table for dinner and had a typical dinner – talked about our days, the girls frustrated us with their (lack of) eating, and we listened to the girls joke around and say funny things. As we sat at the table I kept getting more and more uncomfortable, I felt worn out and started to feel as though I had overdone it. At one point I said, “Oh, geeze, my butthole hurts!!” To which Scarlett duly replied, “What’s a butthole?” Parenting win. 

After dinner I realized how grumpy I was so I went to our room and crawled in bed – I just hurt, through and through, and was emotionally at the end of my rope. I cried a few woah-is-me-tears and listened to the girls cry their own woah-is-me-tears. And then I cried a few tears for James who was stuck with three highly emotional individuals who were all crying for reasons that could not be fixed – it reminded me of a scene from Sense & Sensibility. All of our emotions were definitely running high. I text’d with Hayden who offered me words of encouragment. Then, around 7:45 I felt a painful contraction. I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for literally weeks on end so I didn’t really think very much about having contractions. Ten minutes later I felt another one – Hayden suggested I start timing them. James suggested I skip watching The Bachelor (shock! horror!) and go to sleep instead. I tried to heed his advice and so I just laid in the dark for 30 minutes but realized I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Plus, how could I resist finding out who Chris picked? My contractions varied from about 8 minutes apart to about 12 minutes apart, and they generally lasted about a minute. I let Jelena know what was going on and then hemmed and hawed about having her make the drive over from Atlanta. We had talked earlier in the day and she had said she was going to pack her bag that evening – apparently she finished packing it mere minutes before I text her about my contractions. It was after my third trip to the bathroom that I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was the real thing – one sign of labor is bowels purging themselves. At 9:30 Jelena decided on her own to head over, and I was glad she did – I was anxious about having her make the trip for nothing if I wasn’t actually in labor. I finished watching The Bachelor, not too surprised that he picked Whitney and grateful for DVR – the contractions were painful enough to require that I pause the tv so I wouldn’t miss one juicy second while they coursed through my body. #priorities

Truthfully, I was barely paying attention to the tv – labor has a way of making me turn inward and tune out the world. James had tried to get me to sit with him in the living room but I just wanted to hole up in our bed, quietly, on my own. Eventually, though, I began to feel a little restless, like I ought to be doing something but not sure what it was I should be doing. I walked around aimlessly for a while. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I just needed to double check things. I finally settled in on the couch by James with the contractions still coming 8-12 minutes apart. The rule of thumb is you head to the hospital when they’re 4-5 minutes apart for an hour – based off of that, we were a ways from needing to go to the hospital. Jelena arrived around 10:45 and we chatted and caught up a little. I had a few painful contractions and cussed my way through them – I found I had to stand up, bend over and hold onto the seat of couch while I moaned and cussed. I shuffled to the bathroom again – by this point, merely walking was excruciating. With each contraction, I could actually feel the baby being pushed downward. I have to give ol Blip credit, though, he (as it would turn out) was still rolling and punching in between contractions – I was grateful to have verification that he seemed to be doing ok. As I was finishing up in the bathroom another contraction hit and I started moaning through it – James came to check on me and found me with my pants around my ankles, toilet paper in hand and we just had to giggle. We’d been through this together before, we’ve served in these trenches, he was a veteran of the visuals of labor and birth. I finally panted out, “I think we should go to the hospital.” He had assumed we would leave immediately when Jelena got to our house, but I had delayed, explaining that my contractions were too far apart still. I think he was relieved when I finally suggested we go ahead and go. He grabbed the bags he had set out earlier and I painfully shuffled to the car and waved bye to Jelena. It was 11:40. I sent a few texts to friends at 11:42 letting them know we were heading to the hospital but before I could text everyone I wanted to, I simply lost the ability to bother with anything but my own pain. 

I contracted every few minutes on the way to the hospital – “You’re having another one?” James would ask, worried. He knew what the short time between them meant. With my eyes closed I barely nodded my head. As he pulled into the hospital parking lot his cell phone rang – the midwife on call was calling back. He handed the phone to me as we parked. “So you think you might be in labor?” she asked. “Yes.” “Ok.” “We just pulled in so I’ll see you in a minute,” I said. “Oh, you’re here? Oh. Well. Ok. I guess come on up and we’ll check and see if you’re in labor.” “It’s my third baby,” was all I could say. “Ok, then. You probably know then.” I got off the phone and faced the task of getting out of the car – while some parts of my memory are crystal clear, I can’t vividly recall some parts. I do remember thinking that one of the worst parts of this entire ordeal was going to be the walk from the car to the elevator inside the front doors. Earlier in the night I had sat on the toilet and attempted to psych myself up – “Yes, Nevena, you’re in labor. You can do this. I know it’s scary and that you know how painful this is going to be, but get it together, woman, you can do this. You’ve done it before.” I had even mentally flipped through my birth affirmation cards. But the walk from the car to the elevator was daunting as hell, and I started to doubt myself. 

With every labor I’ve had, I have a distinct memory of stepping out of the car and then having to pause for a contraction before I could continue my journey, and this third labor did not disappoint. As it passed I realized that the pain was never actually over – that it was hard for me to distinguish between the beginning and end of each contraction. I was in transition, and I knew it. That is one thing that would set this labor apart from the other two – I knew what my body was doing. I could feel it, but I could also understand what the pain meant, I could understand what my body was accomplishing with each new sensation. As I crossed through the automatic doors at the entrance of the hospital, I felt all the triumph I imagine a marathon runner feels at the finish line, and so when James asked if I needed a wheelchair I only briefly wavered before settling into the brown pleather. A nurse who appeared to be leaving at the end of her shift saw James struggling with bags and the wheelchair and graciously took over – “You in labor, hon?” she asked me. “How’d ya guess?” I joked, grateful that even in my pain I could find a way to make myself giggle. 

We rode up to the third floor and they quickly put me in a room near the front, right by the nurses station. “Y’all are going to regret putting me in here, this close to everybody.” I meant that I was going to be loud but I don’t know if they understood that part. I crawled out of the wheel chair and started to undress immediately and reached for a gown, somewhat apologizing for not caring that I was stripping down naked without even a “hello” to the nurses. They began asking the typical questions – I can’t remember what all they asked but I answered some and James answered others. The nurses could tell that I was near the end of labor and asked several times if I felt the urge to push. “No, not yet.” The midwife finally came in and nonchalantly asked some questions – she had yet to grasp the immediateness of the birth. I had not met this particular midwife in any of my prenatals but I also didn’t really care who was in the room – she asked permission to allow a (male) medical student in to observe. I had met him at my previous appointment with a different midwife, and again, I didn’t care. I figured everybody has to learn somehow, I might as well be an interesting experience for him. The midwife finally asked if I’d like her to check my progress, “Yes! Please, yes.” A minute later she finally grasped what was going on, “Oh. You’re a good 8.5-9.” She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. “Ok, so what would you like to do – anything for pain?” A little confused, I asked, “But, I’m at 9. That’s too late for an epidural.” “Oh, no, we could do one if you wanted.” What? I thought this was a midwife. I was so confused. I had labored quickly and things were uncomplicated looking, and I was just about to the finish line – I could feel the baby working its way down, I knew I would be pushing soon, and I knew that it would take a while to both get the epidural set up and also take a minute for the epidural to take effect – and yet the midwife was repeatedly offering it to me? She was also telling me to breath in through my nose and out my vagina, so I felt like I was straddling both ends of the birthing spectrum with one medical professional slapped in between. 

I have always struggled with making the “no epidural” decision in the midst of all the pain because, hello, it hurts. And that is a sure sign that things are about to get real: a laboring woman who was hoping for a medication-free birth starts dabbling in the idea of pain meds. I hee-ed and hawed over it, asked James his opinion, and finally said, “No, I don’t want the epidural.” “Well, ok.” So she offered to break my water, and I agreed to that. I felt the warm water gush and remember hearing someone say, “Nice, clear fluid. That’s good.” That meant the baby had not pooped in utero so was not at risk of inhaling any meconium. After she broke my water it got even realer. The pressure intensified ten-fold and I knew I was on the cusp of pushing. I can’t remember if I cussed or not – I find it hilarious that in the midst of labor, when I want to cuss the most EVER, I am worried about decorum. THAT is the time I worry about decorum, when the whole room can see all of my business and a person is about to coming flying out of me. But, you know, you just never know how a laboring woman is going to act. I’m guessing if I allowed myself to start cussing, that we would all be amazed at what would come out. Anyway, as the pressure intensified, I knew it was about to get to the hardest part – the part where I had to push. And, as always, I really didn’t want to. Not even slightly. Because, hello, let’s call a thing a thing. “No, I can’t. No. No. I don’t want to.” Thankfully the midwife offered some sage advice, “Well, if you don’t want to then don’t. It’s ok. Just wait till you’re ready.” A nurse who we knew personally was attending the labor and made mention of another Martin baby about to make its entrance in the world. Just to prove to myself that I can literally joke in any situation, I managed to say, “Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about it being a Martin.” 

And then, a minute later when the pain got really bad, my favorite part – I said: “Please, just give me…give me… give me the thing. Give me the thing.” As I said this I gestured with my hand, mimicking a mask over my mouth. It was the best game of charades ever. No one knew what I was talking about. “Oxygen, honey? You need some oxygen?” “No. No. The thing. Give me the thing.” Silence. Frustrated with my lack of ability to communicate I finally managed, “Drugs! I need drugs. Please, just give me the drugs.” In my pain I had confused medication options; apparently I thought I was at the dentist – they could have given me IV drugs, but not gas. I wanted them to gas me, though. I heard someone say the IV drug name and then heard her go off to find some. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I’m actually going to have drugs for a birth. Thank God. That’s a good call. Why would I not get drugs for this kind of pain. That would be so dumb. Ain’t nobody handing out prizes.” To which my body responded by deciding to push – once my body started pushing I felt like I was on a roller coaster I had no control over, that I had to go along for the ride and so I joined in with my body. This birth I didn’t scream, I moaned and yelled, but I didn’t scream – I screamed like a blonde starring in a horror movie when I gave birth to Ada. But this time it was more moan-like. I felt proud of that, for some reason, like it showed that I was more in control of the situation than scared of it, that I was using vocalizations to work through the pain instead of highlight it. I could feel the baby crowning and although I reeeeaaallly didn’t want to keep pushing, it was going to be worse to stop than it was to keep going. I heard the midwife say, “There’s a cord.” Which I knew meant the cord was wrapped around the neck. I knew that this wasn’t a great situation but that it also wasn’t the worst thing ever, that the cord being wrapped around the neck is fairly common. But I also knew that meant time could be of the essence. My first push had faded out and I heard the midwife encourage me to push again, which I did – then she asked me to stop and I said, “No!! I can’t stop.” And I bared down with all of my might, groaning and hollering “Mwaaaaaaaaaaaaah” and then I felt a gush and the sweet relief of release as the baby fully emerged out. As usual, my first thought was, “Thank GOD that it’s out! Praise Jesus. Hallelujah. Shit that hurt.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear it start to cry immediately which I knew meant the cord hadn’t strangled it, and I heard James cry out, “It’s a boy!” And then I heard, “And he’s peeing all over of you.” “I knew it,” was all I could manage – and by I knew it, I meant that I was so convinced that it was going to be a girl that it had to be a boy – that I am always wrong about the sex, and that all my “feelings” about what it is going to be are balogne. I opened my eyes and looked down at the wiggling little body on my belly and let the relief and shock and love wash over me. I honestly couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had gone from making hamburger patties, to watching The Bachelor finale to giving birth all in the span of 6 hours. We arrived at the L&D wing at midnight and Gus was born at 12:38. It was a lot to take in. The fact that I had a son made the world stand still as I tried to catch up. I watched as James cut the cord – it didn’t take long for it to quit pulsing so we gave that new trend a whirl – delayed cord clamping. It took significantly longer for my placenta to come out than it had in my previous two labors which concerned me a little because that can mean hemmoraging is occurring, but it finally detached and I pushed it out – it felt so good for it come out, like the last of the pressure was finally released. And then came the fundal rubs – I almost punched a few nurses for rubbing on my belly so hard. I know the medical reasons for why they do those rubs, but it doesn’t make them hurt any less – the last thing you want done after you give birth with no numbing agents is for someone to push down as hard as they can on your stomach and keep pushing down, over and over and over. After the torture was over, I tried to nurse Gus a little and they eventually took him to be weighed and measured. He was a respectable 7 lbs even and 20″ long – the longest but lightest of my three babies. 

Before I knew it, it was time for me to transfer to a different room so while James went to watch Gus’ first bath, I got to enjoy the process of going to the bathroom and being dressed by a nurse. I am forever grateful for nurses who will brace you as you wobble your way to the bathroom and will settle you down on a toilet before helping you undress and then take a bottle of water to squirt your tender lady parts clean right after you give birth. It is hard being a patient in that situation – to feel so vulnerable and to be literally naked as the baby you just birthed. But I also found myself pushing past that discomfort and I soaked in the beauty of humanity – that some people are called to medically care for others, and sometimes that means playing bullseye with essentially a squirt gun and a vagina. The nurses were all really caring and helpful and took care of me when I couldn’t care for myself. They wheeled me to the mother & baby ward, helped me climb in bed and I stayed there for the next 36 hours as we began to adjust to our third baby, and we came up with a name for him, and introduced him to his sisters and aunt and soaked in him yummyness and divinity. My favorite birth affirmation is this: “It is said that women in labor leave their bodies…they travel to the stars to collect the souls of their babies, and return to the world together.” I’m not sure that there is much truer in this world than that, and I am both humbled and emboldened that I have been able to experience that journey, that I have been granted the opportunity to usher greatness into this world of ours.


For anyone as obsessed with birth as I am, here’s what I managed to record about my contractions.  They never became the regular 4-5 minutes apart.  Birth is truly individual in nature (unless you’re having multiples).



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Mompetition Starts in the Womb

For those of you who may not know, I have hopefully found a future career path. I’m pretty excited about the concept of feeling like I may have finally found what I wanna be when I grow up – it may have taken 30 years to answer that question, but I feel a calling to this profession that is similar to my calling to hike the AT. It feels right, simply put. It feels like something I was intended to do rather than something that strikes my fancy. Granted, this career will require that I go back to school for a few years and survive an intense program while simultaneouly raising a family, but I’m hopeful that I can muster through. And because we are expecting Baby Blip in the spring, I only have a tentative idea of when that process will begin – I’m remaining open to the fact that I don’t know how I will feel in a year and a half, if I’ll be ready for the undertaking. You see, I want to be a labor and delivery nurse, and nursing school, according to all the nurses I’ve talked to, is quite the bitch.

Yes, I am obsessed with birth. It’s not something I ever expected to be obsessed with or even knew it was something to be obsessed with. I never thought about birth much at all, other than the pain of it. And now, here I am, obsessed. It feels like a weird thing to be obsessed with, for sure, but also I think it’s also a pretty natural thing for some women (and men) to gravitate towards. This obsession has led me to follow one of my favorite online communities: Birth Without Fear. According to their Facebook page, “Birth is not a competition. A Birth Without Fear is different for each mother. How one woman births doesn’t make her better than another. How one woman births doesn’t make her less than another. It is HER birth and hers alone. It’s not to be judged, ridiculed or mocked. It’s not to be compared to. Each woman’s birth belongs to her. Each woman’s story is valid. Each woman’s choice is to be respected. Everyone woman deserves support. Birth is sacred and leaves an imprint that settles deep within a woman’s soul and that is marvelous.”

You see, once you find yourself in this thing called parenthood you might realize there is a parenting sect who is highly motivated by mompetition, and for some reason that sect feels as though the choices they make for and in their famililes is THE ONLY CHOICE THERE IS. All other choices are judged, ridiculed or mocked. And it begins in the womb: Do you eat only organic? Have you done your kick counts? My baby got all his kicks in within 5 minutes. I would NEVER, EVER drink even a tiny bit of alcohol while pregnant. I am all belly; you’re looking…healthy. I can’t believe you’re lifting that 20 pound bag – you’re going to damage your baby. I was only in labor for 3 hours – took one push and bam, baby just flew out. I didn’t even tear. I was in labor for 38 hours, unmedicated, and after 3 hours of pushing my baby was born cone-headed, crying and 10 lbs – RAWR. (I need to note that I LOVE hearing birth stories, regardless of their nature, and am fascinated by the labors of my friends who have super long and super short births – the examples above are written in a very self-congratulatory tone as opposed to a story simply told).

And then mompetition births itself into parental competition: We would NEVER sleep train our child – that’s abusive! Your child isn’t on a schedule? Good luck with that. Formula fed, eh? Your kid will never get into college with that lack of essential nutrients at her earliest stage in life. Breast feeding beyond 6 months? Wow, co-dependent much? You actually let your kid watch tv? Yikes. They eat sugar? Seriously? I hope you have a good dentist. My kid slept through the night at 3 weeks – *polish glasses* – what were YOU doing wrong that it took your kid 6 months? We don’t believe in Santa Claus, and I can’t believe you just give your kid a bunch of plastic junk – what kind of values are you instilling in her?? Our kids do community service on Christmas Eve and eat cold porridge for dinner before going to bed – we turn off our power on Christmas so as to stand in unity with our homeless bretheren. I could go on, and I’m sure you could add a few yourself.

A lot of the time, though, we only communicate half of those examples as to stop ourselves from being mean – the other half is easily inferred, however. For example, I read a birth story on the Birth Without Fear blog that was written from a father’s perspective (I’m a sucker for different perspectives) – it was the story of a home birth, and he was very supportive of his wife and her choice to birth at home. He was in awe of her strength and resilience. It was very touching until I got to *HIS* line which went something like: “Homebirth is the only way to go. I feel sorry for women who give birth on their backs in the hospital – they don’t get to experience what their bodies were designed to do.” I would have liked to thank this kind man for feeling sorry for me – I, in fact, gave birth in a hospital, on my back. Let me also add that I, just like his wife, was lucky enough to have the birth I had desired – unmedicated and in an environment I felt comfortable in. It may also be of note that my nurse (who was AMAZING during both of my births) encouraged me to move around, to not remain on my back. I absolutely refused to move and felt as though I could only get through while laying down. So I fit his description perfectly and, apparently, did not experience “what my body was meant to do.” Huh. Interesting.

His words and perspective did not make me feel bad about my births or re-think my innate and researched desires; rather, they were simply added to the pile of obnoxiously judgmental things people say, over and over and over and over and over and over and over. They’re in the burn pile, if you will. (An aside, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that holding on to the ignorant things people say is a form of ignorance itself. It’s best to let them lie where they were left, step over them and carry on down your path.). When I was a brand new mom those sorts of commentary would cut me to the bone, would render me full of self-doubt and make me rethink my entire philosophy and outlook on life. Now they just piss me off. James, who is much less emotional than I am, takes these kinds of things in stride. His response is, “In order for me to care about what somebody says or thinks, I have to value their opinion, and there aren’t too many people whose opinions I value highly.” Which, I think, is a good perspective to have. I’m more complex than he is, though, and what I view as an injustice, frankly, irks the hell out of me. And I see this kind of thing over and over again – someone who claims to be open-minded but who then either consciously or subconsciously renders out a judgment on anyone who makes a life choice that differs from their own.

I need to add, and I don’t think this can be over-stated, NONE OF IT MATTERS (to me). I don’t care what your night-time routine or lack thereof is. I don’t care what kind of toys your kids play with. I don’t care if you nurse your three year old. I don’t care if you drink a beer while pregnant (hell, I’ll join you). I don’t care if you have an elective c-section or give birth in the horse trough on your back 40. Or if your husband presses your newborn to his hairy chest for skin-to-skin time immediately after birth (although I will probably giggle at pictures you post online because, come on, that shit is funny – a baby with a mouth full of chest hairs gets me every time). I honestly and truly do not care. Those choices, decisions and situations are a mere smathering of trees – they are not the forest in which children grow – they are a small portion along the edge of the forest. The succession of childhood, while seemingly ardently important at the onset, is merely something that will quickly be replaced by firmer roots and shade-tolerant trees who do not need the spotlight constantly cast on them in order to grow – they grow tall and straight (or maybe not 🙂 ) and strong because they were designed to, not because they were pruned to death or because their parents spent their entire childhood worrying about the decisions other people make and thus instilling in them a need to worry about things that don’t affect them. They do not grow tall and strong because their parents were too self-unaware to realize the pain they were throwing into the world was actually rooted in their own souls.

(And, seriously, all you have to do is watch the news to see what child abuse actually looks like or note that 1 in 5 kids are hungry in this country and voila! Instant perspective.)

I recently read a parenting article which gave me rare pause, as far as parenting articles go. It quoted a developmental psychologist who said, “No one can grow to her fullest potential unless they are relaxed.” This struck a cord with me both as a parent and as an individual – actually, more so in application to myself right now. Our family has undergone some drastic changes recently (all good things) and I’m still working on gaining my new footing. We have found ourselves, amazingly, in a town we have always wanted to live in, in a house that is turning out to fit our needs perfectly, and are now much closer to family and friends (except the ones we left behind in Mississippi). It’s still hard, all the changes, and I’m still finding myself overwhelmed almost daily.

The last five years has also brought a battle to me, and that has culminated in understanding what it means to accept another person’s baggage as my own, how allowing that to happen tears away at my soul. It is an internal struggle that sometimes looks like a flat road I’m walking down and other times looks like a tangled up ball of yarn which I need to unravel yet cannot. I currently feel as though I’m in one of the biggest knots yet, and as a result I am neither relaxed nor relaxing to be around, reaching my potential is a very far off thing for me. I find myself getting snippy with the girls and feeling overwhelmed much more easily than normal. And I also notice an uglyness in my soul that creates a pechant for being judgmental and grumpy – it’s an insecurity which is manifesting itself as something to throw at other people. I can’t help but think that what is motivating me to be judgemental and snippy is similar to what causes other people to be covertly judgmental in their interactions with and statements towards others – that perhaps if I have a hard time sitting in my pain and examining it, maybe other people do too, and it can seem easier to throw it at someone else as opposed to looking it in its face and calling it by its name.

And THAT is actually not ok to do to and in observation of our kids. Go the binky route or not, I don’t care. But let’s not teach our kids that it is someone else’s job to hold our pain, to accept responsibility for it or to carry it for us. That misguided requirement will quickly demolish a landscape and make it a desolate and deserted toxic space.

In summary, sleep with your babies or don’t, I don’t care, but don’t ask them to go to bed with your issues. Help them to grow by fostering an unbridled acceptance of the way other people live their lives – teach them that love isn’t seeped in the mundane details of this world but, rather, floats happily along the universe and is free for both the taking and giving. Allow them the space to sit in their pain by demonstrating how to do it yourself. And above all else, don’t pester them from the age of 5 with the question, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” That shit forms complexes.

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Number 3 is growing in me

Yes! How very exciting – we are expanding our little tribe once again. We’re thrilled. And exhausted. Selling and buying a house and moving to a new state and a new job and welcoming a new baby all in the coming days, weeks and months is a lot. A LOT. But it’s mostly good stuff, and it’s crucial to keep that in mind when things start to feel overwhelming and/or I am in desperate need of my second or third nap of the day. It’s good to keep a positive perspective but also challenging at times.

Before you ask, let me stop you. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a legitimate question. It’s one I myself have asked. Many times. It’s just a little disheartening that it’s the second thing a lot of people say after “Oh, wow, congratulations!”: “You hoping for a boy!??!” Or, “Did you try for a boy?” Or, my least favorite, “I bet James is dying for a boy.” To be fair, if we had two boys people would be asking if I was dying for a girl. What is fully disheartening is the prevalence of the concept of expanding a family for the sole purpose of maybe having the opposite sex of what you already have rather than because you simply want another child, another being, another soul. It’s disheartening that the idea of sexual anatomy of your child somehow defines him or her prior to her existence outside of the womb – why is that the focus of our dreams for our future children? Baseball player, doctor, ballerina, or school teacher – aren’t we lucky enough to live in a country where anyone, regardless of sex, can do all or any of those things?

Yes. It’s sex. No, it’s not gender. This is actually pertinent to my point. If you google sex (and may I stress that you use caution in doing so) you’ll find a definition such as this: “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.” That precious moment when you sit in the ultrasound (or is it sonogram? I am not a medical expert so I can’t give an educated explanation of those particular differences) or when you finally birth the baby after months and months of wondering, somebody is gonna check out their crotch and let you know if there are dangly bits there or not; someone will take note of the baby’s sexual anatomy and say “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” When you have an ultrasound, you may get a nice crotch shot of a penis or a vagina. What you don’t see pop up on that weird 3-D screen is a love of princesses or the color pink or Tonka trucks or a weird ability to recall inane sports trivia at the drop of a hat. Those things are gender-related and fall along a wide-ranging spectrum. Sex is, mostly, black and white. Gender is hard to pinpoint. Sex just takes the wave of a wand or a peek in a diaper. Gender takes exploration and discovery and experience and has, what I would argue, no bounds. Side note: If you’re feeling a little weird about having a sex-reveal party as opposed to a gender-reveal party, let me go ahead and let you in on something – if you’re knocked up, chances are the cat’s out of the bag. We know what you probably did to earn that belly of pride, that particular sex has already been revealed.  The jig is up.

In our home, gender is less about a lack of particular colors and more about choice. Our girls wear princess dresses and jump in muddy puddles. They watch Cars and The Little Mermaid with equal ardor. At a consignment sale this week, I bought them both a tool kit and a collection of Princess paraphernalia. Ada later answered her new Cinderella phone while hammering in a nail. So, to me, when someone asks if we were trying for a boy I’m a little dumbfounded. For one, I personally would never intentionally add a whole new human being to both our house and to the world in hopes of “getting what I don’t already have” aka a boy. Our family is lacking nothing because we have two daughters and no sons, and if we were to have a third girl (it might be shocking to some but I would be beyond thrilled for a third girl) then wonderful. If baby Blip is a boy then 1. Oh shit, baby penis and 2. Wonderful.

It bothers me less that people ask me, but it really irks me when the boy-desire-question is aimed at James. Is there something wrong with being the father of only daughters? If so, apologies to my dad who actually wanted to have little girls (and for that knowledge, I thank him) and has two and no sons. Apologies to all the little girls in the world for so disappointing their fathers. No, no, I get it, I’m over-reacting. I’m pregnant and hormonal, you’re right. Ugh, women. Having a son means you have someone to take hunting and fishing and someone to pass on the family name to. Having daughters means you have someone to cook you dinner and wash your clothes. Am I right??? And to all the mothers of only little boys, many apologies. I have no doubt that you have suffered endlessly by being surrounded by precious little boys who love and adore you. Must be awful. Quick, better get to working on that girl, Daddy’s gettin’ HONGRY and all those boys are making SUCH a mess, UGH. What are you going to do? Boys will be boys….

Here’s a secret, though: when I use to daydream about my future family I thought I wanted a passel of boys. Five, maybe six. Funny how things change. I *reaaaalllly* wanted boys, someone to be rough and dirty and do fun things with (Enter my parenting tactics). I don’t know where exactly this seed started or why I thought those things weren’t an option with girls, but it could have been my maternal grandfather who, according to family stories, told my maternal grandmother if she had 9 daughters, her 10th baby would be a son. Luckily for my grandmother, she had two little girls and then a boy… My mother was deeply embedded with the idea that boys are preferred and I’m guessing inadvertently passed that notion on to me. And this family history and pathology which I have chosen to end perhaps explains my deep reaction to the idea that something is lacking in my family because it is a little estrogen-heavy (i.e. totally badass). Or maybe having daughters has turned me into a feminist (read: not a man hater) and it’s a legitimate thing to get annoyed by. Maybe it’s both.

And that leads me into my final point, one which Melissa inadvertently drew out of me via text just now and that’s this: having the family you have molds you into who you are. As the mother of two daughters, I can much more easily see the inner child in myself. I have a much deeper appreciation for who that little girl is, how she has shaped me, and how much joy a child can bring to the world. Although, I’m sure having boys would have helped reveal this to me as well. It’s also really magical to watch the beauty of a sister relationship develop as I’m sure it’s amazing to watch any sibling relationship develop – it’s helped me to see my relationship with my own sister in a whole new light.  In one sense I feel like we’re given the families we need in order to become who we are meant to be. I love having my girls, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world – I was destined to be the mother of those two amazing little people and they have given me insight to the world which I never dreamed about. This doesn’t mean I think my family is better or more complete or more all-American or whatever weird notion is out there than a family with no kids or families with only children, or families full of boys or a good mix. Because, in the end, it’s not about the sex, it’s actually about the gender, about who the child is, not what she has going on below her waist. It’s about the little souls we help raise, be that as parents, as step-parents, as grandparents, as aunts or uncles, as family friends, into people who will hopefully go out into the world and do good and have fun and live full lives rich with experience and love – could you ask for more?

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Meredith Emerson and Nia Sanchez

Wow, I’ve been on a blogging roll!  One post in the past year.  Whew.  I guess that’s what toddlers do to you, among other things.  Today is, however, my birthday (again) and JM got a babysitter so I have a few hours to myself to finally explore some thoughts that have been ricocheting around my noggin.

The following paragraph is gruesome so please stop reading now if you’re not in a good place to read something sad.

In 2008 a story broke that drew me in like a moth to a flame.  On New Year’s Day, 24-year old Meredith Emerson was hiking on Blood Mountain, Georgia with her dog.  She went missing.  Missing hiker stories always capture my attention, but this one grabbed it harder than any other has – Meredith was a 24-year old.  So I was.  She was a UGA graduate.  So was I.  She  hiked in the woods by herself.   So did I.   She was born June 20th.  I was born the 19th.  She hiked on the AT a lot. I had completed a solo, 163-mile section of it six months before.  Her story was a one that hit home.  For a week I thought about her and prayed for her.  Unfortunately, her story came to a tragic end.   The man who had kidnapped her, Gary Michael Hilton, 61, had over-powered her, beat her, chained her inside his van, raped her and ultimately bludgeoned her to death before decapitating her.  He was caught, gave an emotionless confession, and is now serving life in jail.  For more information, read this article.

At the time, I very vividly remember saying to James, “I can never go hiking by myself again, can I?”  He looked at me curiously, sighed and said, “It’s probably not a good idea.”

A year later I was preparing to start my solo thru-hike of the AT.  I decided that, although I never knew Meredith, she would not want her story to be one that caused women to stop exploring the great outdoors, solo or otherwise.  When people find out about my thru-hike, one of the first questions I usually get is, “You didn’t go alone, did you???”  I did.  I started out as a solo hiker but quickly met a group of great people who I hiked with.  During the nearly 6 months I was hiking I only felt fear a few times, and they were typically middle-of-the-night paranoia-filled thoughts that weren’t brought on by any sort of reality, just a bunch of what-if-scenarios that jumped across my consciousness.  We encountered two iffy men out of the hundreds of people we met, and the trail community circled the wagons on those occasions.

During my thru-hike, I thought about Meredith a lot, and internally, I dedicated my hike to her.  I’ve kept up with the organization created to honor her passions, Right To Hike, and hope to one day soon participate in the annual 5K the organization hosts.  In short, I am both haunted and inspired by her story.

Last week I was watching the Miss USA competition on tv.  JM walked in and said, “Why are you watching this crap?”  I replied, “Because I’m a girl.  You wouldn’t understand.”  Miss Nevada, Nia Sanchez, was asked about the increasing number of sexual assaults on college campuses, and what she thought could be done to lower those numbers.  She responded:

“I believe that some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation and that would be a reason it could be swept under the rug, because they don’t want that to come out into the public.  But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself, as a fourth-degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself. And I think that’s something that we should start to really implement for a lot of women.”

And she won. Sanchez did what she was trained to do – she answered the question and made it applicable to herself.  I don’t think she was suggesting that in order to stop being raped, women should take responsibility to protect themselves.  She wasn’t wrong to suggest women learn self-defense.  But there was something that was personally disconcerting about her answer.  You see, Meredith Emerson was trained in martial arts.  She had a green and blue belt.  Granted, she was not a fourth-degree black-belt as Sanchez is, but she fought good and she fought hard.  Yet a man nearly 40 years her senior who could not keep up with her while they were hiking overpowered her and ultimately killed her.  9.5 times out of 10, in hand-to-hand combat, a man will overpower a woman.  That’s just how we’re designed.

I’m not angry that Sanchez said what she said.  I’m angry that her answer was the winning one.  I’m angry that articles like this distract from the idea that there actually is an underlying issue with Sanchez’s response.  In a culture where 60% of rapes go unreported, 10% of reported assaults lead to an arrest, and only 3% of accused rapists will spend even a single day in jail (source), Sanchez once again focused on what women can do to stop themselves from being raped.  She was given a short amount of time on live, national tv to answer a highly complex question, yes.  But here’s a better answer: Why do so many men rape?  Because most of them get away with it.  That would take all of 5 seconds to say.  It’s not the entire puzzle by any means, but it is a crucial piece.  

One in five undergrads are victims of sexual assault.  If it’s not one of my two girls or two of your nieces, it could very well be your own daughter.  Will I teach my girls that a swift kick to a man’s crotch will level him?  You’re damn right.  That might save their life.  But what would be much less traumatic to all involved is if we could teach our sons to respect women.  We should also teach everyone that women are not sexual objects created only to satisfy some entitled undergrad’s craving.  I think one great step to doing this is, from here on out, turning the tv off when Miss USA/Miss America come on.  I damn sure will be; I can no longer pretend that those competitions are anything but a means to perpetuate the notion that a certain kind of beauty, poise, and an ability to not stumble and say something completely asinine in a 30-second window in response to a supposed real-world question are the ideals to being feminine.  Rather, the likes of Meredith Emerson are what I view to be winners.  I will be teaching my daughters to strut their stuff in the woods, not on a stage in a bikini.

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Empowerment

The other day James and I walked through campus before the Thursday night football game.  All around us were people tailgating, having fun.  As we walked I took it all in – the kids playing, the sea or maroon, the smells of food wafting around, the decorations.  And I sighed.  I’ve never been good at decor and here there were tailgate set-ups with autumnal themed decorations, floral arrangements, even faux chandeliers, for goodness sake!  My “decorating” consists of three pumpkins awkwardly arranged near the front door of our house – I can’t even muster up the energy/desire to carve them (I know, my poor kids).  I also took in all the other women parading in the latest fashion while I wore a pair of jeans and a hand-me-down shirt.  And I sighed again.  And worried, for the millionth time this year, whether who I am is enough.  And whether who I am is too much.

We settled in with the Keller’s who always invite us to join them tailgating.  I “met” Steve while thru hiking – he and his family followed along Wags’ trail journal and through that found me, too.  They kindly sent us gift packages and words of encouragement as we made our trek to those gorgeous northwoods of Maine.  And in hanging out with the Kellers I forgot all of my sighs and worries about measuring up.

But here I am, days later, still mulling them over.  Actually, I’ve been mulling these thoughts over for years, decades.  I’ve heard that in becoming a mother a woman faces the biggest shift in identity she will encounter during her life.  I don’t know if that’s true for everyone but for me, so far, it is proving to be so.  I am the person who can have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around my girls but, at some point or other, I’m sure I’ll thrust a picture of them doing something “amazing” in your face.  Becoming a mother, for me, has shifted the lens through which I view the world, has focused my attention on my girls.  And, in a round about way, the view is a refracked glimpse of myself.  That can be both beautiful and terrifying.

Who and what and how and why and where a woman should be are questions that run through my mind daily.  I wonder how to answer these questions for both myself and my girls.  Society has a lot of answers for me.  A lot of skewed perceptions.  And a lot of time I find myself allowing myself to become victim to them.  The phrases/words “pre-baby body” and “should” and “parent this way” and “frazzled” and “put-together” march along in front of me, protesting my current state, declaring me in need of some re-written self-legislation.  There are constantly protestors on my lawn, yelling at me.  Sometimes I have the strength to tune them out and other times I wilt and cry to myself that they are absolutely right, my administration is in need of a total over-haul, I should be impeached and sent off to open up a library to the tune of people quietly clapping with internal discourse about what a fraud I am.  But if I’m honest with myself there is a badass part of me who is only unfrequently brave enough to muster her strength and show herself, that part of me wants to charge out there with my shotgun and yell at those slimy bastards to get off my damn property, go get a damn job and leave my (literal) ass alone.

You see, I have days when I feel so good about myself.  I can look at my life and see how far I’ve come, what I’ve accomplished, what amazing things I’ve been blessed with.  These are the days I just look at MY life, I don’t compare who I am to what others are or what they would have me be.  As I climbed on to the treadmill last week I felt a sense of pride of how well I’ve stuck with getting healthy (read, healthy NOT “prebaby body” – my pre-baby body is gone and will never be again, not because I may never have a 6-pack (which, incidentally, I actually have never had), but because my body has born life and so it will never be the same again, in a good way, regardless of its appearance) after Ada was born.  I thought to myself how grateful I am that I’ve resolved my IT band injury and have been able to run again for the first time in 5 years.  I thought about how good I feel after I exercise.  I felt so good that I didn’t falter too badly after seeing pictures of Channing Tatum’s wife “flaunt” her “post-baby body” just “two months post-partum” on the cover of a magazine.  I thought to myself, “Good for her.”  And I also thought, “Damn, I’m so glad I’ve had time to get healthier on my own terms, in my own time.  I’m glad I had time to just focus soley on what it means to be a parent.” (That is not a subtle judgment on the parenting skills of celebrities, just FYI – I’m not a fan of subtle attacks).  And, most importantly I thought, “Well, what’s taken her 2 months may take me 2 years…and that’s ok.”

All those positive, healthy thoughts came crashing down after seeing Maria Kang’s controversial photo (if you’re in a fragile state, don’t bother looking it up, it’ll just make you break).  In it she poses with her three young boys, her youngest is 8 months old as noted in the photograph.  She is wearing a sports bra and shorts and her amazingly toned physique is on full display.  Above her, in the photo, is written, “What’s your excuse?”  I was floored.  I curled up and cried and Scarlett sat over me, perplexed, patting my shoulder and saying, “It’s ok, Mommy.”  After calming down and thinking it over, I read Maria’s biography and explanation about how health and fitness is her “God-given passion” and she wanted to “be an inspiration” for people to step outside of their excuses and get healthy, that obesity is an epidemic in our society and she wants to help change that.  Which is all good and well, mostly.  But it’s also kind of bullshit.

Another blogger likened her to the photos of handicapped people accomplishing amazing physical feats (a legless man climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, for instance).  But that’s also bullshit.  My youngest child is twice the age of her youngest child and my stomach is twice the size of hers.  And in both the wording and aesthetics of her picture she is setting one more example of why that’s not ok, why I have once again failed.  I think the point Maria Kang missed is that in order to be an “inspiration” you don’t set out to be one – people who are truly inspirational are inspirational because of who they are, not because they want to be.  In desiring to be inspirational she already elevated herself, in her mind,  to a position above those who she wanted to influence, and that’s no way to inspire anybody.  What she probably meant is that she wanted to empower people, but you don’t do that by saying, “Look how great I am…why aren’t you this great?”  You empower people by saying, “There’s nothing special about me, you are just as capable as I am to accomplish what I have.”  I don’t mean to take away from her accomplishments or to imply that she’s a bad person.  She just had a terrible idea how deliver her passion into the world.

I also read an article by the actress who played Blossom in the hit tv show of the early 90s (http://www.today.com/moms/why-i-dont-force-my-kids-say-please-or-walk-1C7398514).  She writes about how her two boys both have had some physical and speaking “delays” but that she didn’t seek out professional help, she allowed them to come into their own on their own time.  Which is whatever.  But then she goes on to say that “you get to raise your kids and I get to raise mine.”  Followed immediately by, “Here are other things I hate to force KIDS (notice, not “my kids” but “kids”) to do: share…..be polite….excel…….”  And the best part, “I have heard people say that those who force their kids to share, be polite, and excel on adult terms are really just creating children who are monkeys, imitating behavior without independently experiencing it or really understanding it. I don’t know if I agree, but I do know that families that don’t force these things have children who grow and develop at their own pace and they all turn out pretty much fine.”  Blossom may have some rad hats, but the bitch lacks a backbone.  Without actually having the guts to do so, she has just called my children “monkeys.”  Would I refer to her kids as mute sea slugs?  Hell no I wouldn’t.  Because that’s rude and judgmental and very, very assuming.  And, more importantly, because they are not mute sea slugs – they are beautifully and wonderfully made.  But now, every time Ada says, “dank do,” I just want to laugh and say, “You know, that Blossom Bitch thinks you’re a monkey.”

These are the kinds of protestors that I’ve allowed on my property and into my head.  Sure, there are plenty of folks who will herald them as geniuses and maybe even inspirational.  And that’s fine.  But what I am tired of is the prevalence of the idea of open-mindedness being swiftly followed by the hypocritical and judgmental espousement of “my way is THE right way.”  I’m tired of the standards society sets, and I’m tired of falling for them.  I don’t want my girls to grow up as pawns to the standards others have set for who or what they should be.

Rather, I want them to dance in the beauty of the gifts they’ve been given and to be comfortable in the idea that who they are and who they were and who they will be is just right and will always be.  I don’t want them to be small-minded; rather, I want them to see the big picture of life.  I don’t want them focused on whether or not to teach their kids the ABCs or if others think they should do so.  I don’t want them focused on if their beauty hits society’s mark.  I want them focused on how to bring joy and love into the world.

When they ask who to look to as role models, I won’t be pointing them Maria Kang’s or Blossom’s way.  I’ll point them towards the likes of Robin Emmons who has sculpted her passion for growing food into a method to feed and nourish people who would otherwise be unable to eat as well; or Diana Nyad who is the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage and then went on to swim for 48 hours straight to raise funds for victims of Superstorm Sanndy; or Jennifer Lawrence who said, “I eat like a caveman, I’ll be the only actress who doesn’t have anorexia rumors. In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress, I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach…I’m never going to starve myself for a part…I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner”; or Malala Yousafzai who said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

And, if I play my cards right and get those damn trespassers off my mental lawn, maybe, just maybe, they might even look up to me.

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My next 30 years

The other day I was riding down the road, kid free (thank goodness for our local Parent’s Morning Out program) and Tim McGraw came on the radio singing ‘My Next 30 Years.’  I’d heard the song dozens and dozens of times before but halfway through it hit me – it was finally applying to me.  30 is staring me down the barrel (please don’t take offense, 30+ friends – I don’t mean that the way you might think).

You see, when I turned 20 I started realizing I had fairly vivid memories from 10 years before.  When I turned 25 I could really remember 10 years before that.  And now I’m turning 30 and remembering 10 years ago, when I first started having vivid memories of the decade before – my 10 year old memories are 20 years old (if that makes sense).  It’s not that 30 is old, it’s just that with 30 I feel like I’m gaining a whole new perspective.  It’s that 30 is no longer “in my 20s.”  It’s that 30 feels like I really *should* be a grown up now.  And I don’t.  I really don’t.

Melissa (my step mom) got me a t-shirt that says, “I pooped today!”  I think it’s hilarious.  I make inappropriate jokes all day long.  I love Pretty Little Liars (a tv show about high school girls).  I laugh, like Chandler from Friends, when I hear the word “duties.”  Mature isn’t the first adjective one would use to describe me.  It probably wouldn’t make the top 20 list.  Yet, temporally, I am maturing.  I’ve had gray hairs for years.  I’m starting to see slight wrinkles.  I can only twirl for about 5 seconds before I get dizzy and have to quit, but Scarlett, that 2 year old can twirl for 10 minutes like it’s no big deal.  I have creaky bones that sometimes pop when I’m trying to silently sleep out of one of the girls’ rooms while they’re sleeping.

Sure, 30 is young but it’s not as young as I once was.  And I’m (mostly) glad about that.  I think back on my 20 year old self and am a little embarrassed.  I think back to my 15 year old self and am mortified.  In the past decade and half I’ve grown into someone I’m (mostly) proud of.  Someone who I (mostly) like.  I’ve maneuvered my way through undergrad and grad school, I’ve worked numerous seasonal jobs and made some great friends and learned lots of amazing things and gained a variety of experiences.  I’ve made bold choices and followed my gut.  I’ve also been hesitant and played it safe.  I’ve made a dream come true and thru-hiked the AT.  I married a real keeper and together we’ve become parents to two amazing little girls.  I’ve done a lot I’m proud of, and I’m so grateful I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to follow my own beat in more ways than one.

Growing up, one thing that was valued by grown-ups, at least from my perspective, was leadership skills.  I am no born leader.  That’s not to say I’m a meek follower.  I’m just not looking to take charge (in some situations, though, well  JM can tell you the times I get hard-headed and determined).  I always felt like I was lacking some thing critical, though.  I don’t remember being serious or ambitious or particularly focused on anything that was valued by society; or, rather what I felt society valued.  From the time I can remember, I was asked, “What are you gonna be when you grow up?”  I always had an answer, but it was always different.  I lacked conventional ambition.  Looking back, though, that was a blessing.  I’m glad I didn’t fall prey to the corporate ladder cycle, at least not in my 20s when I was still at a total loss for what makes me tick.  That just wasn’t the right fit for me.

You see, I don’t have a 401K, I’ve never had a permanent, salaried position, and I *still* don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  If I compare myself to others my age who have had successful careers sometimes I feel like a total loser, a joke, someone who has nothing to contribute.  But, mostly, I can shrug those feelings off.   I’ve grown comfortable with the fact that I have lived my life as I’ve wanted, and I’ve done some pretty awesome things.  My choices are nothing for me to be ashamed of, and I definitely wasn’t born with the need to impress anyone.  Basically, I’ve grown more comfortable with who I am and who I am not.  And for that I am grateful.

I’ve also learned that no one is responsible for my happiness but my own self.  We all face obstacles and hardships.  There are those who choose to allow those things to weigh them down and there are those who rise above, who float along with the dandelion petals and dance in the sun.  You see, 9 times out of 10 I choose happiness.  That wasn’t always the case.  I’ve learned that life is beautiful and intricate and awe-striking.  I’ve learned that a lot of the things that society seems to value – material possessions, being at the top of the career ladder, money, etc can be very rewarding and nice to have.  But, despite having all of those things, a person needs something more.  Money can buy you fun and comfort which are nice things I very much enjoy, but it cannot buy you happiness.  I have to make my own self happy and from what I’ve learned, it seems like the only way to be happy with life is to be happy with who I am.  And that’s not always an easy thing to do.  Based off a few conversations, I get the feeling that’s something that folks tend to get better at in their 30s.

In the same sense, I’ve learned that I  am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness – if I dash off into someone’s storm and try to pull them towards my happy green field filled with sunshine, I’m just going to end up soaking wet and they’ll just bring their storm with them, drenching my pretty field and ruining my happy little party.  And I don’t want none of that.  Life is hard enough without being weighed down by the burdens of those who will not help themselves.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  That’s not to say I think it’s wrong to help carry a burden.  But there is a line in the sand, and stepping on the wrong side of that line can be disastrous for you and enabling for the debbie downer.  Some folks continually allow bad news bears into their lives but I live by Maya Angelou’s sage advice, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

I’ve learned the value of perspective.  Before I left to hike the AT, I had the insight to make the signature on my online journal (the one I would keep during my adventure), “This will just be a memory one day.”  I had some great days hiking through the gorgeous mountains that now haunt me daily.  But I also had some really, really tough ones.  My signature applied to both kinds of days – I tried to enjoy the good days as much as I could as they were happening, and I tried to just push through the bad days in hopes of running into another good one.  Since that experience, I’ve worked on learning to hold my breath and take all of a moment in or take a deep breath and push passed one of life’s speed bumps.

Becoming a parent comes a whole new set of wonderful moments and hardships.  Thankfully, I haven’t had anyone to tell me to “enjoy every minute” in a while, but the next person that does will get to hear all about Scarlett’s affinity for playing with her poop, all over her room, and how much I’ve enjoyed every moment of cleaning poop off of carpet, bedding, stuffed animals, the crib, her butt, and my own arms and legs (yes, legs).  I digress.

Scarlett broke the path in more ways than one.  I had never spent any time with babies so when she was born everything was absolutely new to me.  The learning curve on  taking care of a newborn is steep, and although I faltered and questioned my abilities on an hourly basis, I made it through (with the help of James).  I grew along side with Scarlett – as she grew more confident in her independence, mobility, and dance moves, I grew more confident in following my gut, in the innate goodness I possessed as a little girl myself, and in making animal noises.

And then Ada came along, and we were once again finding ourself on a steep learning curve.  But this time I had perspective.  I knew, from experience, that a baby is only a newborn for so long – that all I had to do was take it one day at a time, and life would be ok.  The girls would be ok.  I would be ok.  I knew that I wouldn’t “ruin” Ada if I held her or if I didn’t hold her.  I knew that before I knew it, she wouldn’t be a bump on a log, but she would grow into a beautiful, interactive and amazing infant and then, before I knew it, she would be a toddler.  And she’s well on her way.  And now I’m realizing that I really will miss these days when they’re just a memory.  That knowledge (sometimes) helps on my tough days, the ones all the well-meaing elderly folks in the grocery store have long ago downplayed and forgotten.

Becoming a parent, unsurprisingly, has created the biggest shift in me.  I am still that immature Nevena you know and love, but life has upped the ante.  Life is more precious to me than it has ever been.  The life James and I have created, together.  Our family.  I have a new appreciation for what family means, how precious the lives of others are, and how I want to honor and respect those lives, regardless of whether they are lived the way I would chose to live them.  Sure, I encounter folks who make me doubt that notion, that make me forget it, I slip up and find myself back in teenage Nevena territory where I’m raging and carrying on.  But that’s ok.  I have the perspective now to eventually rein myself back in, take deep breaths, and move on from my latest mistake.  My mistakes no longer define me.

You see, I am, by far, my toughest critic (I would venture to guess a lot of people are the same).  But I am also very well attuned to my emotions and am constantly in the midst of self-reflecting.  Sure, I tend to think people think the worst about me, but I’m also learning to be more forgiving of myself and showing myself the love and respect I deserve.  The perspective I’ve gained just by observing my little girls has given me a whole new outlook on who I am, who I once was.  I, too, was once a little girl who loved to twirl, who wore cutesy dresses and talked in a baby voice.  I loved cuddling on the couch with my dad and ran to my mom when I got hurt.  I was once so little that my best friend thought I couldn’t tie my own shoes, so she did it for me (and she still takes care of me now).  I was innocent, unmarred, and a precious baby, too.  In seeing myself in that light I am much better able to forgive myself for my shortcomings.  I don’t love myself unconditionally, not by a long shot, but I now have a better understanding of my innate goodness.

Because, you see, I’ve learned that those who love themselves the least are the ones who are the most destructive in life – self-destructive and destructive of anyone in their path.  And I don’t want to go down that road.  I don’t want any self-hatred or doubt to lead to my demise, if I can help it.  I’m confident that it won’t.

I love one of Mark Twain’s quotes: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”  I realized that I’m *only* 30 (in a few hours).  That I have much, much to learn.  I’m astounded by how much I’ve grown, though, in the past decade, how much I’ve lived and learned and loved.  I can see myself looking back on this post one day and snickering at myself, at my youth and hopefulness.  Because, really, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”  And that’s my hope for my next 30 years – lots of love, laughter, and tears, the good kind.

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The Perfect Week for ‘Outcasts’

It’s that time of year again – no, not March Madness – Holy Week, or, the week leading up to Easter.  For a lot of Christians it inspires us to look back on Jesus’ life in hopes of better understanding the lessons He sought to teach mankind.  This type of nostalgia led me to look back on my own path, as a person in general, but also my path to Christianity.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I wasn’t raised in a Christian home nor did I go to church regularly (or often).  I’m grateful for those aspects of my life – with a different set of parents I might not have had the opportunity to explore my faith from a tabula rasa perspective.  I might have been marred by the messages of hate I tended to encounter when I did attend church; Jesus’ message may have been skewed to fit the judgement of a perhaps well-intentioned but ultimately unkind preacher, and I may have spent a lot of my formative years with the lens of judgment clouding my ability to see people the way God made them.  I’m glad that I haven’t had to unlearn those kinds of lessons.  I’m glad that I was taught that we were all created equally.

I’m also glad that a friend did convince me to give church another try.  And I’m glad that I slowly became comfortable enough to not just glance at a Bible from time to time, but to pick it up and actually read it.  I’m glad that I got to read the Gospels, alone, without the insertion of someone else’s interpretation of what it all meant.  I’m glad I got to see that all those Christians were wrong about Jesus.  As I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John I didn’t read about a man who preached hate and judgement; rather, the man I read about preached love, faith, and hope.  Jesus threw no stone, and as memories of the 90’s bracelet fad asking the rhetorical question of “WWJD” I realized that neither should I.

Unsurprisingly, there are as many ways to interpret the Bible as there are stars in the sky.  I wouldn’t venture to guess that there is one right way to be a Christian, and I certainly am not self-righteous to think that my beliefs are correct for everyone, or that at the ripe ol’ age of 29 that they are cemented as sage, time-tested and proven.  I would say, though, that a religion based on one central figure (or, in Christianity, a three-for-one deal) would do well to pay most attention to the actions of that figure.  Jesus welcomed those society thought unclean.  Jesus hung out with prostitutes.  He healed lepers and cripples.  He raised people from the dead.  His acts of love were cast upon those others refused to love.  For me, that was the take home message –  to love as Jesus loved.

If you know me well then you know I’m outspoken, opinionated and have a talent for zingers.  I’m not infallible (or even close).  If you know me really well then you know that the mis-representation of Jesus and Christianity in general is a hot button issue for me.  Because I know how it feels to stand outside the circle and have hate cast out on me, standing by and watching others do that very thing is odious to me, especially in the name of the man who was sent to earth to show us how to love one another.  That kind of hate kept me from God, and I guarantee it is keeping millions of others from even considering Christianity to be a religion worth respecting or trying to understand.  I refuse to be a part of that dissuasion.   I would much rather try to be one one-billioneth the person Jesus was than be anything at all what Pontius Pilate was.

Pontius Pilate’s judgement sent Jesus to his death.   If you are one who believes those who do not come to know and love Jesus before they die they will not have an everlasting life in heaven, then your own judgment may be responsible for their ultimate residence in hell (I, for one, leave the first-class-ticket-assigning to God).  Judgement and hate does nothing to attract a person to try to understand your beliefs; it pushes them far, far away from your crazy ass.  So, I guess if you’re that type of Christian then you’ll have that to acknowledge on judgement day.  Not sure an Edible Arrangement really conveys the, “Sorry my hate and judgement is part of the reason you’re in hell” message you might like  to send.

Which leads me to the issue at hand.  Twelve years ago, as a freshman at Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!), I drove a Tercel and I proudly displayed my “Straight but not narrow” bumper sticker.  As a junior at the University of Georgia I took a required speech class.  One of our assignments was to give a persuasive speech.  My topic of choice?  Why gay couples should be allowed to adopt.  I’m sure for the majority of my conservatively minded peers that my views went over as well as a poopy-flavored lollipop.  But I didn’t give a damn.  My grade wasn’t based on whether I actually convinced anyone, my grade was based off of my speech.  Because I felt so passionately about the topic, I did an excellent job writing the speech (maybe I was not so good at delivering it…) and received an A.  My point is this: equal rights for all has been a fire pumping through my veins for over a decade.

Forget for a second that marriage, under the law, is a legal term and not a religious one.  Forget that Christianity isn’t where marriage was invented.  Forget that marriage was around for thousands of years before Jesus was born.  Forget that God might not care about syntax nearly as much as you do.  Forget that atheists, Jews, agnostics, wiccans, Muslims, Hindus, etc get married every day and nobody. says. a. word. about. it.  Forget that a similar form of small mindedness prevented anyone of even an ounce of color from marrying anyone labeled white until 1967 (41 years before I married someone I would not have been able to legally marry before the Supreme Court intervened).  Forget that Jacob accidentally married Leah because Rachel was too scared to get married, and in those days the ceremony was set up in such a way that you could actually unknowingly marry the wrong person.  Forget that he later married Rachel, too (Yes, while Leah was still alive.).  Forget that Jacob had children with not only Rachel and Leah, but also had children by their servants, Bilah and Zilpah. Set that aside.

In what way, shape or form is it logical to tell someone they do not deserve the same legal rights you (who yourself are a sinner) are granted because they, too, sin?  If you start in on the, “If a man and man can get married, who’s to stop a woman from marrying a goat” then I will turn my other cheek so your astoundingly complete stupidity can get lost in my busted eardrum, and I don’t have to listen to it anymore.

Now, bring back to the front of your mind the fact that, under the law, marriage is a legal term and not a religious one.  That, at the end of this entire debate, is all that matters.  It’s as simple as that, y’all.  Simple as that.

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