One month ago, I turned 40. As the day approached, I had a lot of people saying things to me like, “Don’t worry, it’s just a number” and “At least you don’t look 40!” and “Well, don’t go telling people how old you are!” and a host of other things that made it seem like I should either try to forget my age or pretend I’m younger than I am, because who wants to be 40?
Do you remember the first time you cried watching a movie? Do you remember how old you were? 16? 14? 11?
My daughter was four. The movie was Frozen.
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, telling him about a time not long ago when someone said to me, “I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”
We’ve all heard this in various forms before. I’m sure I’ve even repeated it offhand, reminding someone that it is better to be quiet than to be mean. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s old. And to some extent, it’s true. If you can only think of shitty things to say, then just keep your mouth shut.
But if you can only think of shitty things to say, you have a lot of work to do. Because you can always be kind. Always.
Last week, my band performed a big show here in our little town. And watching the show was a friend who I know doesn’t particularly like my singing style. It’s not her thing, and that’s fine. But she came to the show. And you know what she said afterwards? She said, “The sound was great!”
And she was right. The sound was great. And that mattered. I love her for not just keeping quiet because the music we make isn’t her jam. She found something nice to say, to show her love and support.
Because there’s always something nice to say.
Someone got a haircut, tattoo or piercing you don’t like? Don’t say it looks like ass, because that’s douchy. And it makes it all about you. Who cares if you don’t like it? Someone’s haircut, tattoo, piercing, music, painting, and general lifestyle choices have nothing to do with you and how you feel about them. So don’t make it about you.
And don’t keep your mouth shut, because you know what? That’s also douchy.
You know she wanted to get that buzz cut. You know he wanted that rising phoenix tattoo. You know she wanted that eyebrow piercing.
Try “Hey! You finally got your hair cut! Good for you!”
Try “Wow, look at the colours in that tattoo!”
Try “I’m proud of you for finally getting that piercing. You’ve been talking about it for a long time.”
Try “Are you happy? Then I’m happy for you.” And mean it.
Someone wearing something that’s not your style? Compliment the colour.
Someone making art you don’t appreciate? Commend them for being brave, and putting their art out there for the world to judge. That’s a hard thing to do.
Someone invite you for dinner but then serve something that was barely palatable? Enjoy their company, and tell them you enjoyed their company. Thank them for their effort. Be gracious. Be kind.
Being quiet isn’t kind. Being quiet is a cop-out. Being quiet speaks volumes. Being quiet is a shitty way to be with the people in your life.
Don’t be quiet. Be kind.
Amira has always been an early riser, and when she was first born and the weather was still nice, I used to take her out early so Stu could get a couple more hours of sleep, and I could get the hell out of the house. One of the places Amira and I used to hang out in was our local Wal-Mart.
I know. Wal-Mart. I KNOW. But these were desperate times. And they knew what they were doing when they set that place up. It’s huge, you can walk up and down a hundred aisles, stopping to look at a million things, and spend hours in there just reading the magazines. They open early. And they have a McDonald’s. So once in a while, Amira and I would head to Wal-Mart early in the morning, just to go somewhere. She’d gurgle in her car seat, I’d have a coffee, people would ooooh and aaaahh over her while I smiled my proud-mother smile (because no one wants to hear the tired-mom sigh), and drink more coffee.
So anyway, this one morning in early September, we were at Wal-Mart. It was early. Like, I was sitting in McDonald’s with a cup of coffee in my hands by 7:00am early. It was cool and crisp, and just the kind of weather I loved to dress for. But on this day, like on so many other days during this time, it was ill-fitting jeans, boots that needed a good polish and some oversized sweater that hid my breastfeeding bra stuffed with those “Why are my boobs leaking?” pads. My hair was tied back. I wasn’t wearing makeup. I loved my baby, but the truth is, I didn’t recognize my myself, or my life.
As usual, a couple of the senior citizens who also troll Wal-Mart early in the morning stopped by our table, cooed over Amira, and went on their way. Then one of the older ladies who worked at McDonalds came over.
I’d seen her there a few times. She was probably in her early sixties, she was super-quick on her feet, and she always gave me my coffee with a smile.
She came over and said, “Good morning! She looks happy today!”
I replied with my usual stock response, “She’s really good.”
And then the lady said to me, “And how are you?”
My eyes welled up with tears. I just looked at her, not really believing that she had seriously asked how I was doing. And it wasn’t just that she asked, it was the way she asked. It was both the concern and sincerity in her voice. It was her vulnerability in asking me, with as much love as she had, how I was doing – a question I had been asked in passing a hundred times over the past few months, but mostly by people who just asked for the sake of politeness, even by most of my family and friends. This lady meant it.
“I’m okay,” I replied. But she had already seen my tears.
“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.
“No, really. I’m okay. But thank you so much for asking.” I meant it. And she knew it.
The weather got colder, and Amira and I hung out at Wal-Mart less. I saw that lady a couple of times again, but we didn’t really speak, until two years later.
The week before Stu, Amira and I moved to Costa Rica, I went back to that Wal-Mart. I stood in line at McDonalds until this lady was standing in front of me asking, “What can I get for your, Dear?”
I told her that I didn’t want to buy anything. I reminded her of our conversation that morning, two years before. She didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget it. I told her what her sincerity had meant to me, and that I hadn’t forgotten it. I told her we were moving next week, and I probably wouldn’t ever see her again, but I wanted her to know that I so appreciated her generosity and concern for me on that day two years before.
I haven’t seen her since we moved. But I still remember her kindness.
I have a routine I follow with some fair regularity, and it includes going to the gym a few mornings a week. But a couple of weeks ago, I was really having a week. And on my way to the gym on Thursday morning, I stopped at Playa Cochles.
When I pulled my bike over, I thought I’d just stop for a moment, take a breath, and keep going. But that first breath of fresh beach air felt so good that I took another, and then another. Then I got off my bike, locked it to a tree, and sat down on the beach, just a few feet from the water’s edge.
I’ve wanted to do this so many times before – I ride back and forth by this beach ten times a week. But stopping always felt so…indulgent. I mean, I have a plan. I’m going to the gym. I can’t just not go to the gym and to go the beach instead.
It’s ridiculous. I know. But that’s how I felt. Until that morning a couple of weeks ago.
I sat there on that beach without one iota of guilt in my bones about skipping the gym to just sit there.
That was unusual. And amazing. And freeing.
I sat on that empty beach just enjoying the sound of the ocean for about 25 minutes before it felt like the sun was burning right through me.
So I went for a swim.
There is something about being in the ocean when you’re not having a good day that just makes it a good day. I once read that there isn’t any problem that salt water can’t fix: sweat, tears or the ocean. And that is the damn truth if I ever heard it.
I was gifted with all three that morning.
And it was so healing.
So Donald Trump’s “Grab Her By The Pussy” video was leaked last week, and predictably, everyone is all up in arms, as they have been every time he says something shocking, which is pretty much every week.
News anchors are outraged. Republicans are outraged. Democrats are outraged. Social media is outraged. Everyone is all, “How can he talk like that? That’s sexual assault! He’s talking about sexual assault!”
That outrage is bullshit.
Every single one of you has heard a guy talk like that. Maybe he didn’t say, “Grab her by the pussy,” but he said something equally, if not more, offensive. You’ve heard it more than once.
I’ve heard guys talk like that more times than I can count. And I don’t make it a point to hang out with douchy guys, but that is the culture we live in. Women are consumables, and this language – this behaviour – is a testament to how superficial and disposable we are.
If you tell me you’ve never heard someone say something like what Donald Trump said, you’re lying. You have. If you didn’t realize at the time how offensive it was, and you needed the world’s outrage at Donald Trump to make it clear to you, well then let it be clear now.
You’ve heard it before.
And you didn’t just hear it in the locker room. It was in the car. It was at the mall. It was hanging out with your friends. It was in the boardroom.
Remember when Donald Trump said, “She had blood coming out of her…whatever..” and everyone was all, “What did he just say?!?!”
I remember being in an employee meeting ten years ago. In a bank. With a Vice President. A Vice President who, in that meeting, said the words, “I think she was in a bad mood…I don’t know…she must’ve been on her period or something.”
If you’re a guy and you’re reading this, check yourself. You’ve said a questionable thing or two or twenty.
Everyone was so mad when Trump said, “I just start kissing them. I don’t even wait.”
Guys, you never did that? Never kissed a girl without asking? Never touched a girl who didn’t want it? Here’s a tip: If she pushed you away, she didn’t want it. If she cringed, she didn’t want it. If she turned her head, tried to wrestle free, told you to let go, she didn’t want it.
You’ve all done it. Or you know someone who has.
I remember the first time.
I was in a crowded movie theatre. I was 15 years old. The man next to me put his hand on my knee.
I was young. Innocent. I didn’t know what to do. I wondered if he had mistaken my knee for the arm rest. I was scared.
It took just one hot minute before his hand started to move up my leg. I shoved it off fast, then didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t touch me again.
How many women have been touched by men on a crowded bus?
All of us.
How many women have been grabbed by a guy in a club?
All of us.
Guys, did you ever see a girl you thought was hot? Did you ever grab her around the waist and hold her tight, saying something like, “Hey baby, come here. I wanna talk to you.”
Ever hold on to her waist, her arm, her wrist, so she couldn’t get away? Ever seen someone else do it? Have you ever seen a woman be assaulted like that? Have you ever assaulted a woman like that?
Don’t act surprised and offended by Donald Trump. You know someone just like him. You may be just like him.
Don’t act indignant over what he said and did when you have said or done the same thing, or have witnessed someone saying or doing the same thing and not intervened. You didn’t shut them down.
You didn’t defend the woman who was grabbed.
You didn’t help the woman who was trying to get away from unwanted attention.
You didn’t call out the friend or teammate or coworker or boss or vice president for saying something so insanely asinine and offensive that you almost couldn’t believe that they said it.
They said it. They did it. You probably have too.
Your outrage is bullshit.
Trump isn’t an anomaly. He’s just another guy.
**Don’t even come at me with your Not All Guys crap. DON’T EVEN.**
It’s no secret that I was married before I met Stu. That guy and I dated for years. We got married. We separated after 19 months. And life went on.
But before life went on, it had to happen. So this wedding had to happen.
A few months before the wedding, he and I were in New York City. We sat on the patio of a restaurant in Manhattan and by the end of the appetizers and our first bottle of wine, I was in tears, telling him that I cared about him, but I just didn’t think that getting married was the right move for us. It felt wrong. It felt rushed. We didn’t want the same things. Why were we doing this? Our waiter must’ve felt pretty sorry for me – in addition to the box of tissues he silently slipped next to my plate, he brought us a second bottle of wine, on the house.
But that guy who I was drinking with – the one who said he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me – he felt less sorry for me than the waiter. His response was, “Let’s just get married. Everything will be fine. Trust me. You’ll see.”
I was young and scared. We had already broken our engagement once. (I know, I KNOW.) I couldn’t look at my family and friends and tell them that we were breaking it twice, especially if he didn’t want to and I was half on the fence looking for somebody else to let me out instead of breaking down that door myself. So the wedding went forward.
At the wedding, our parents were seated across the table from us as we signed the papers that would make us husband and wife. I remember the white linen cloth that covered the table, separating me from my parents. The same white as the snow that had been steadily falling outside for three days. I remember thinking that this late November snow was enough to close schools and roads and offices, but it still wasn’t enough to shut down this wedding.
When it was time to sign on the dotted line, the officiant reached into his pocket for a pen and came up empty handed. Of course he didn’t have a pen. But there wasn’t even time to blink before my almost-husband pulled out his fancy Mont Blanc fountain pen and signed his name with a flourish. He passed it to me with a smile, and I picked up the pen, the weight of it a brick in my hand.
Just before the tip of the pen touched the paper, I heard my mom say, softly and quietly but rather firmly, “Don’t do it.”
I looked up at her. She was looking at me. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.
We had a whole conversation in that moment. A conversation where she silently said, “I see what you’ve been going through. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner. But I’m saying it now. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. You can stop it now. It will be over.”
And my silent, desperate reply, “It’s too late.”
Then I looked down at the paper and signed my name on the dotted line. And it was done.
I didn’t mention that interaction with my mom to anyone, and no one mentioned it to me. My mom never brought it up. The guy I married, who was sitting right next to me when it happened, didn’t say anything about it. My dad was sitting next to my mom, and he never mentioned it. It was almost as if the world put up a bubble around me and my mom in that moment, as she quietly tried to give me a way out. But I couldn’t take it.
My mom knew I was unhappy. Mother’s always know, and now being a mother myself, I understand that more deeply than I ever could before. She knew I didn’t want to marry him. She knew I didn’t want the life he was offering me. And as much as it hurt her to see me walking into this, it hurt me to know that she knew. It was just a whole lot of uncertainty and despair hidden behind pretty clothes and a big party.
I couldn’t take the out she was offering me then. I had to walk to the end of that road to find my way home again. And when I did finally find my way home, there was my mom. Waiting with a couch for me to sleep on, a cup of tea to dip my cookies in, and my favourite blanket to keep me warm. The road I walked did end up leading me home again. Right back to my mom.
Two years ago I wrote this:
Feeding Amira is hard. Very hard. Like, so insanely pull-my-hair-out hard.
Amira loves food, and she can eat a lot.
But, she won’t sit in one place and eat. She will sit down for 2 minutes and you think it’s fine and then she’s up and wandering around and playing with things and climbing on the sofa and hanging upside down and I’m like, “HOLY HELL JUST SIT AND EAT.” But she’s like a puppy, always sniffing out the next thing. She just doesn’t have the attention span to sit down and eat.
And I can’t have her not eating. I just can’t. So I get up and follow her around, bowl and spoon in hand, and give her bites as she goes about her business. I try to cajole and convince and threaten and bribe her to get back to her seat, but she’s not having any of it. It’s so hard to take her to restaurants, because she won’t just sit at the table. She never has. Being still isn’t part of who she is. If she’s awake, she’s on the move.
I consider this a huge parenting failure on my part. I was never strict with her about how she eats. From the minute she first got in a high chair, I never enforced that she stay in it to eat. I never said, “If you don’t sit, you don’t eat.” I never het let her feel hungry so she would learn that she had to sit down to eat meal. I mean, I know she wouldn’t have starved. Eventually, she would have gotten hungry and she would have sat down at ate a meal.
But I just couldn’t do it to her. And the truth is, I never really thought about why.
Until last night.
Stu and I were hanging out in the kitchen, talking about how poor Amira’s sitting and eating habits are. I admitted to Stu that I should have been stricter with her, and Stu said that it wasn’t too late. He suggested we get strict with her about how she eats. She’s only two and a half. There’s a lot of time for her to learn, and learn quickly. No more chasing her around with the food. If she doesn’t sit at the table, she doesn’t eat.
And I replied, “I don’t want her to feel hungry.”
“It’s fine for her to feel hungry.”
“No, it’s not. I don’t want her to feel hungry?”
“Why not? She’s allowed to feel hungry.”
I could already feel the emotions building up inside of me, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint where they were coming from.
“NO, I DON’T WANT HER TO FEEL HUNGRY.”
“I don’t understand why not.”
And then the thing I didn’t even know was there came out.
“Because the doctor didn’t look at you when she was three months old and tell you she was hungry!”
Before I said it, I never really thought about what it was that made me so obsessed with her eating, beyond the fact that I’m her mom and, well, isn’t that my job? But as the words fell out of my mouth, the fear and shame I felt about what had happened two years before came back to me. And all of a sudden, I understood why I was so militant about making sure she eats, and about what she eats.
The guilt that consumed me when I found out that I was no longer making enough breast milk to feed Amira never went away. The desperation I felt as I tried to do everything I could to feed her naturally never went away. And the remorse I felt when I finally had to give her baby formula to keep her fed, has never gone away. I didn’t think about it often, but clearly, it was lingering in there somewhere, playing a part in my parenting decisions for over two years.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Now here we are, almost two years after that night in the kitchen. I won’t chase Amira around to eat anymore, but I will let her get up and walk around, and come back for “bite stops.” I do still feed her from my own hand more often than not. I still pamper her with the foods I know she will eat, instead of insisting that she eat what her father and I are eating, or not eat at all. I still ask her all the time if she’s hungry, because some part of me still feels like it’s something I need to fix. And yes, I do still feel guilty and desperate and remorseful over what happened those first few months of her life. It doesn’t consume me. But it’s there. I don’t know if that will ever be gone.