The Sting of Mis-gendering

So… preferred pronouns. A few years ago, I did not understand them. I didn’t balk, necessarily, (like some) but I didn’t get it. After yesterday, though, yeah. I do. At least from my own cis-gendered mom to a sparkly son perspective.

Yesterday was a day of frequent mis-gendering. None of it was bigoted or intentional, but innocently misguided. Now, I understand that my 6-year-old sparkly son was self-styled in feminine flair fabulousness, but it didn’t make the well-intentioned mis-gendering any less frustrating.

The first time a lovely librarian helped my son find a unicorn book. He’d asked me to help him in his search but I was in the middle of settling a Lego squabble at the block table between my littlest and another pint-sized builder. So, I recommended that my 6-year-old ask the kind librarian who was shelving books for guidance. Fearless as ever, he brushed a flyaway hair off of his brow and sashayed over to the librarian. A few minutes later, he happily returned with a book.

“What great book!” I responded when he happily showed me his find. “Thank you,” I said to the librarian who had resumed shelving duties nearby. The librarian smiled and replied, “She asked me for a unicorn book but that’s not my specialty so I looked around for her and we found one! I hope she likes it!” Despite the librarian’s kindness and warm smile, every mis-gendering pronoun landed like a bee sting to my heart. I struggled to hide my agitation and maintain my smile despite knowing my son just witnessed this entire exchange.

We’re used to this by now and it was a fleeting interaction, so — given that my son didn’t do the telling shirt tug and wide-eyed glance up at me reaction — I knew it wasn’t worth correction. I exhaled and shuddered, trying to release the unintentional offense.

Not 10 minutes later, my sparkly son approached an assistance desk. A young librarian with stunning red hair and a tiny nose ring that twinkled in the iridescent overhead lighting greeted him. My son drove right into his request; he wanted to open a library card for his little brother. My son looked across the children’s section to me and I smiled knowing he’d likely baffled the librarian with his request. “I don’t have I.D., Mommy.” He said locking eyes with me as he shrugged his delicate shoulders. “What? You didn’t bring your driver’s license?” I teased, nudging him with my elbow as I fished my license from my purse. I explained his request to the librarian. She asked my sparkly son his name. “We have the same name!” the librarian said kindly, not realizing that his name was the identically pronounced male version of her own. Then the librarian noted how brave “she” (referencing my sparkly son) was in approaching the desk on “her” own. Two rounds of bee stings in such a short time, ow!

My son hadn’t heard any of this last mis-gendering — thankfully — as he was too focused on finding a ballet book in the shelves nearby. I, on the other hand, was chafed by the two closely timed social stumbles. As this was a fleeting and understandable mistake that hadn’t impacted my child, I didn’t correct the librarian.

Shortly before leaving, I had a brief interaction with another patron who saw my three children and, upon seeing my middle son’s attire, witnessing his interest in ballet and unicorns, and seeing his floral-hued ensemble, logically assumed he was a second daughter of mine. She had complimented my littlest’s kind playing habits and I thanked her. She noted that he seemed to enjoy the blocks. (He was roaring around the block table while holding a Lego creation at that precise moment.) I commented that he had stereotypically “masculine” interests — trucks, dinosaurs, anything that destroys stuff — and she said, “all boys do!” I cocked my head to the side, entirely releasing my attempt to conceal my inner workings, and said, “Hmmmm. Both of my boys and my daughter are different from one another.” I smiled then continued, “It’s amazing how three kids can come out so differently. Same gene pool. Same playroom. Same home. All different.” The patron smiled and nodded, then we, in friendliness, went our different ways.

Our library adventure was positive experience as a whole, with kind librarians helping us at every turn. It’s a shame that the sting of mis-gendering sullied the outing.

Do I blame the individuals for assuming incorrectly that my son was a girl? No. Am I offended in some quietly sexist way that my SON was thought to be a DAUGHTER? No, absolutely not. Am I angry at those who unintentionally mis-gendered? No.

But I’m fed up. I was sick of having to accept the stings with a smile. I was exhausted being mama Canada goose constantly on guard to protect my child.

I’m frustrated and annoyed and sometimes, at the end of a long day of verbal bee stings, I just feel like inappropriately yelling at people who are doing the stinging. But that wouldn’t help anything. It would only leave a bitter taste in their mouth that may unfortunately linger and sully their next interaction with a gender-bending individual. And I can’t be responsible for that.

Still, it gets tiresome. It’s lonely.

I know only one other mom of a young boy who truly allows her child to sparkle when, where, and how HE chooses. This loneliness gets heavy.

And, full-disclosure, in some typically less liberal, generally unaccepting locales, my sparkly son’s unisex name and ability to “pass” as a female has offered us a safety bubble from potentially unsavory feedback. Those erroneous assumptions allow my son to frolic freely in his mermaid-unicorn top, pastel shorts, and carefully French braided cropped hair. Onlookers simply and incorrectly assume he is a petite little girl with an edgy haircut. Meanwhile, my husband and I look on with the protective inclinations Canada geese, ready to run in to his or nip if needed.

With all of this exposure to the intricacies and frustrations of what some may deem “microaggressions”, I have developed a greater understanding of the need, value, and reasons for “preferred pronouns.” Just because an individual strikes us as obviously fitting in one gender category or the other, solely due to our antiquated and faulty societal conditioning, it doesn’t mean we should impose our assumptions on that individual. We certainly shouldn’t regard ourselves as some sort of gendering judge whose assessments should be wholeheartedly accepted. Or, worse yet, consider our convenience and ego of such great importance that we should be able to make these assumptions without correction.

Prior to developing a growing understanding of preferred pronouns, I had a certain ego-check awareness. As confusing as all of the possible terms — him, her, per, they… — were, I knew full well that my own inability to understand the concept and necessity of preferred pronouns was not indicative the topic’s validity but was more so a reflection of my own reasoning and comprehension shortcomings. But life, in its usual tongue-in-cheek way, took hold and granted me lessons by way of personal experience to truly clarify the matter. Thanks??

One day I hope more families allow their children to shine when, where, and how they want to without fear of judgment or safety. One day I hope it becomes commonplace for more gender-neutral terms to be used and the gender variances are accepted more widely. One day I hope we’ll be better humans.

We are but in the infancy of this movement towards bettering ourselves as a community. I have hope for one day.

Advertisements

Easy Ways I Save Money and the Earth Every Day

Going green needn’t be expensive or complicated. One small effort at a time can add up to a significant impact. And saving the earth and your money can most certainly go hand-in-hand. Here are eight easy ways I save green while going green every day.

1. Washcloths instead of paper towels: Years ago, I ran across a Pinterest post of some fastidiously fashioned cloth “paper towel” roll made up of matching cloth rags that snapped together and formed a tidy roll. That creative idea was inspiring yet intimidating. With less than zero sewing talent, I knew that creating such a roll was beyond me. So, assuming that was the only way to swap out wasteful paper towels, I moved on. Then, an embarrassingly long amount of time later, it finally dawned on me: my substitute for paper towels didn’t have to look like paper towels, it just needed to be absorbent! And so a bin of washcloths came to live on my counter and the roll of paper towels was tucked beneath the countertop to discourage use and wean my paper-towel-loving husband from the preference. Trees saved. Money saved.

2. Cloth instead of paper napkins; One day as I wrote, “paper napkins” on my shopping list, I realized that I was literally throwing money away. I was buying a plastic-wrapped brick of disposable, single-use paper napkins when I could, instead, use cloth. At first, the idea of having something else to wash and fold made me hesitate, but now, it’s a non-issue. I just toss the cotton squares into the washer when they’re dirty. No special treatment. No ironing. No wasted money.

3. Reusable sandwich bags: I have a variety of reusable snack and sandwich bags. Some are cloth with tidy zippers, some are translucent silicone with a resealable top, some are more envelope-like and resemble cloth diapers — but swath sandwiches not baby bums — with hook-and-loop closures. I just toss the cloth bags in the clothes washer after use — with 3 kids and a husband who bikes or kayaks daily, there’s always laundry spinning in the machines — whereas the silicone bags simply require a quick hand wash and air dry. Easy, cheap, and plastic-free!

4. Silicone freezer bags: As a former breastmilk-pumping mom, I have a tried and true process for storing and freezing liquids. Soups, curries, sauces, stews… pour into a bag, squeeze out the air, seal, freeze it on its side, and — tada! — stackable frozen food bricks! The problem: wastefulness and expense. Freezer bags add up and they’re not free in their monetary or environmental impact. So, what do I do? I use silicone freezer bags. They’re a smidge smaller than the standard gallon size disposable variety, but just grab two and you’re golden. They’re easy to clean and last for countless reuses. They’re undeniably more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts. They’re sturdy too… no more surprise leaks while thawing dinner!

5. Homemade veggie broth: As a gluten-free vegan mom of three who uses vegetable broth instead of oil to cook and eats raw most days until dinnertime, I use a significant amount of vegetables daily. I used to spend a small fortune on packaged vegetable broth every week, but now it’s practically free! Every time I haul out the cutting board, I grab my silicone freezer bag, and pop any produce scraps into the bag. I add to the frozen collection until a bag or two are full, then dump the frigid contents into my Instant Pot; cover the scraps with water; add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a bay leaf; then cover and cook on the “soup” setting. After the broth has cooled a bit, I pour the broth through a strainer into a large bowl, quickly mash the cooked scraps in the strainer to release any extra liquid, then pour the broth into jars to refrigerate and use all week. The mashed scraps go in the backyard for the wildlife and are generally gone by the end of the day. Veggie broth from scraps, easy!

6. Water bottles: I drink a lot of water. So much so that those little mini pod-style water bottles are but one sip for me. That said, carrying around my own refillable water bottle is key. My kids have one bottle for home, one for going out, and one for bed. This saves both money and the earth.

7. Cloth produce bags: grocery cashiers LOVE this one! I’ve received unexpected compliments from a handful of cashiers already on this easy habit. Instead of placing my produce into plastic bags, I grab my produce, weigh it, print a label, stick it to the side of my reusable cloth bag, then add the produce to the bag. Depending upon the size/weight of the item, I may have 3-4 types of produce — each with it’s own label stuck to the side of the bag for easy scanning at the register — in a single bag. It makes check-out and grocery unloading much easier. And no wasteful plastic bags!

8. Old t-shirts to produce bags: For my frozen and shelf-stable grocery purchases, I use sturdier reusable bags, but for my produce I use all kinds of assorted small bags. One type being, my hand-made bags that formerly lived as t-shirts. I simply take an old tank top or t-shirt, snip off any sleeves, then stitch up the bottom. Now, my sewing skills are so tragic that I’m not sure if my stitching can actually be categorized as “sewing”, but even I can do this. If you have a sewing machine or trusted seam glue, go for it! Easy peezy free produce bag!

As the candid low-waste, frugal, vegan, mom-of-three YouTuber, The Fairly Local Vegan, often states, it’s better to have a lot of people living a low-waste life imperfectly than to have a handful of people living it perfectly. I am far from perfect in my efforts to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes convenience just wins out, or sometimes I forget to bring a reusable bag, or my kid forgets his water bottle. But I just keep trying.

As you incorporate green efforts into your life, do what works for you given your present life, circumstances, and priorities. Forget about what everyone is (or claims to be) doing. Do what works for you, because that’s the only way it’ll be sustainable.

Bikini Body Revisited

I’m doing it again! Bikinis.

Yep, those scars are mine. My proof of life, of survival, of being beautifully human. And I refuse to hide them.

That’s right, no one-pieces for me. Not even when Endometriosis bloats my belly or when decades-old internal monologues pelt me with insults. But why?

Am I doing to to get attention? Am I doing it to show off my physique? Am I doing it to keep my diet in check? Nope. I’m doing it for my children.

I had four abdominal surgeries, three close-in-age children, breastfed my three offspring well beyond their first year, pumped breastmilk for donation that fed 30 other babies… this body has WORKED. This body has lived and struggled. This body has scars and strength, imperfections and curves, wrinkles and stories. This body deserves not to be hidden under sweaty layers of sandy lycra or regarded as “unworthy.” If it is a divine creation, it should be treated as such, with joyful celebration.

My children — my sons and my daughter — deserve to know that this is the body of a 36-year-old mom of three. That scars are not to be hidden but to be worn as badges of honor, because they mean I survived. That stretch marks are indicators of growth and life. That what makes us different makes us beautiful. That we shouldn’t hide ourselves out of fear of judgment and certainly never out of shame.

My children deserve to know that they should be proud of their own bodies and their own uniqueness. That they should accept others’ individual forms with loving appreciation. Because one day my children will have scars and stretch marks and individualities on their bodies. Because my children will encounter others with their own visible stories. Because one day they may love others whose bodies are different from their own, in one way or another. And I never want my children to regard those sacred memorials of life with anything other than love.

And as much as I’d love to communicate this message to my children from the flaw-hiding comfort of a perfectly ruched one-piece, how can I possibly effectively communicate this message of body acceptance if I am hiding my own frame? If I don’t demonstrate this, live this, and embody this, I cannot expect my children to love themselves and others without aesthetic prejudice. And, so, I must live it unabashedly myself. I must be an example. In a bikini.

When Memorial Day rolled around and Endometriosis had bloated my belly and winter stolen my tan, I truly wanted to reneg on my own self-imposed rule. Just for this summer. But I couldn’t. My children deserved better. I could do better. I had to be better.

So I put on my bikini and my smile. I ran and played and dug in the sun-warmed sand. And it was wonderful.

I wear a bikini because I want my children to see that THIS is a human body, a mother’s body, a real body. That THIS body, too, is beautiful. That THIS body is worthy of being shown and honored not in spite of, but because of, its imperfections.

Judgment and Motherhood

Judgment. Man, like cold germs and cauliflower, it’s everywhere. No matter what you do or where you go, it’s there. But motherhood has provided me the biggest lesson in terms of dealing with it.

I remember the initial sting of judgment when, as I struggled through a shopping list at Target, my fiercely iron-willed then-2.5-year-old daughter tantrumed loudly in the store. No matter what I did, what I said, or how calmly I kept our errand moving, she persisted. Pushing the cart containing my purchases and my then-1-year-old son, my face grew red hot with anxious embarrassment. I didn’t even want to look up to see passersby. Then, a stranger stopped me and said that I needed to give my daughter a spanking. That was not a helpful statement. His face was creased with judgment, not softened by empathy or warmed by the desire to aid. He simply disapproved of my child’s behavior and my reaction to it. So he chose to share his internal negativity with me. Sadly, I was too novice then to refuse to accept it. I didn’t realize that that was an option.

Back then, I internally crumbled and seethed at the unsolicited input. I allowed the unwelcome negativity to weigh on me, to tear at me, to affect me. However, another kid and five years of parenting later, such a situation would elicit a different response.

Pre-kids me was constantly on alert for perceived or real external judgment. I truly cared what others thought of me. A side-eye or sneer would erode me. Fast-forward to three kids later, the sheer frequency and variety of judgment I have and do receive has granted me perspective I wished I’d owned years ago. Though I am aware and at times irritated by outside judgment, it in no way topples me as it once did. If anything, it enables me to properly respond to the judgment and assess the critiquer’s appropriate place within my life.

My response now: release the judgment and give space.

An outsider’s unsolicited judgment is and should be ineffectual. What does their opinion mean, particularly if it is an ill- or under-informed assessment? Often judgmental comments are rooted in incomplete information, lack of empathy, competitive drive, ego disruptions, and/or a tendency towards viewing the negative. All of those stimulating factors disqualify the accuracy of the judger’s perspective. The individual is unknowingly looking through a clouded window.

For example, before I had kids of my own, I judged parents with abandon. I assumed I could do it so much better than they could or that I somehow knew something that they didn’t. Then I became a parent. I swiftly realized I had known NOTHING. Those years of caretaking for my didabled brother, babysitting for children of all ages, nannying… nope. It lent me no meaningful insight. I thought it had — I truly did — but I just plain did not know a thing, and I can say with relative certainty that any parent who has made such an assumption themself will say the same thing.

I had never actually been a parent, so my information was inherently incomplete, flawed, inaccurate. Meaning, all of those judgments and assumptions I’d made over the years reflected more on me and my utter lack of awareness of myself and my limited knowledge than it did on those I was assessing.

That’s right. All of those negative ideas I had about others — yeah, well — those parents were the rubber and kid-free me was the glue and all of my foolish judgments were bouncing off of them and sticking right to me. I was unknowingly making a royal ass of myself. I did not know what I did not know and, boy, it showed.

The same notion goes for fellow parents judging other parents. One cannot possibly know the ins and out, before-during-and-after, detailed information that would enable a fully formed assessment to be made. Judging a fellow parent’s approach or their child’s behavior is not only unhelpful and unsupportive, but entirely pointless. If you’re concerned, offer support not critique. If a mom looks stressed, offer help or even a kind smile, not an eyeroll or a sneering whisper to your friend. Judgment just isn’t the right choice… don’t be human glue!

Now, a parent of a 7-, 6-, and 3-year-old, I have experienced judgement from self (SO much from self), family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and a plethora of strangers. As a result of that wealth of exposure, I have realized the value in distancing myself from those whose natural inclination is to critique, especially those who have not yet realized the limitations of their life experiences in granting them clarity.

I should neither give credence to judgers’ snark, nor welcome them with regularity into my life. They and their judgment should be granted distance. I deserve better.

And so, I not only release the individual’s judgment as ill-advised drivel and a consequence of their own struggles, but I release the individual. I allow them to drift and place a self-protective partition between them and me. If someone is slinging arrows, it’s only reasonable to back away and raise one’s shield.

And so, my judgment response goes something like this.

If someone takes issue with my sparkly son’s feminine flair aesthetic? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone balks at my parenting rules or situation-specific behavior expectations? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone comments negatively on my littlest’s penchant for mud puddles or stick digging or worm finding? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone takes exception to my “extended” breastfeeding or my former efforts as a breastmilk donor? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone provides unsolicited punishment advice or vocally disapproves of my parenting approach? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone judges my children’s behavior or my response to it without knowledge of the before, during, or after of the day? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone disapproves of our dietary choices or religious practices or education choices or daily routines? I release the judgment and give space.

If someone consistently finds fault in my children and/or me? I release the judgment and give space.

I am a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner, but even with that inclination I deserve to parent my children to the best of MY ability and MY judgment without fearing outside snark. And, as satisfying as a razor sharp comeback may be, there’s no use in starting arguments or lashing out, especially with those who innately critique the world; they simply do not perceive the cloudiness of the window through which they view everyone and everything around them. So, I breathe out and move on in the knowledge that their judgment is a reflection of them and not me.

Parents, I wish you freedom from judgment and, if it does find you, I wish you the ability to release both it and the misguided critic. Step back and raise your shield. You matter too.

Keep doing your best. Keep loving your flawed children with your flawed human heart. Keep surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

The Sparkly Boy’s Doctor Visit

Yesterday I took my newly minted 6-year-old for his annual well-check. My son strolled in — flower-printed blouse, pale pink skinny jeans, rainbow sneakers, and a rainbow unicorn headband atop his short, French braided hair. I wasn’t sure of the reactions we’d receive or the questions we’d get — as he was far more flagrantly himself this year than last — but that’s life with my sparkly son.

As with most of my days, the well-check took a surprise turn. It went from health screening to gender-inclusive career advice in a heartbeat.

“What’s your name?” “What grade are you in?” “What’s your favorite food?” All the standard pediatrician conversational screening questions. Then, “What do you like to do outside of school?” “Play outside with my friends,” my flower-shirted son said, “and ballet.” Straightening his rainbow unicorn headband on his short French braided hair, he added, “Oh, and ice skating too.” He smiled at the pediatrician, my son’s striking blue eyes peeking through ebony eyelashes.

“Well then,” replied the doctor, wheeling his chair closer, “which one do you like better: ballet or skating?” This was clearly a humdinger of a question. My son tapped his delicate finger on the paper-sheathed exam table. “Hmmm… ballet.” “I was in a ballet performance. ‘Sleeping Beauty!'” “Did you like it?” Responded the physician. My son nodded emphatically and I added how even with 3- to 4-hour long ballet rehearsals, he still couldn’t wait to attend ballet classes afterwards. “You may have to step it up, then,” the doctor warmly grinned, “this is such a fun time when kids really begin to hone in on their interests. My daughter did the same with soccer. If he likes it, go for it!” My son beamed at the suggestion.

What’s your favorite color, the doctor asked, holding a light in front of my son’s eyes. “Glittery purple.” The pediatrician put down his light and grabbed his stethoscope and cellphone… both dark purple. “You see these?” He asked my son. “I searched to find ones that matched and this is as close as I got. I love purple. ANY shade of purple, from lavender to plum… but I really like this dark shade like my phone case best. We BOTH like purple!” Both my son and the physician grinned. The doctor returned his stethoscope and cellphone to their respective positions and resumed his eye examination.

“I never thought to say, ‘glittery purple’… that’s a great color! Very specific.” As he had my son follow the light with his eyes, the doctor continued, “Do you know I have SIX purple shirts I wear to work?! All shades of purple. I love purple.” My son smiled, clearly envisioning all six purple tops.

The visit continued with all of the usual wellness checks: ears, nose, throat, etc. “Can you hop down so I can check your back?” Requested the doctor. My son landed in soft precision on the gray speckled tiles.

“You know, you’ll be very strong if you become a ballet dancer,” the doctor said, lifting the back of my son’s blue and pink flowered shirt. “And I’ve never seen a ballet dancer with poor posture. You’ll stand so tall!” He patted my son’s head saying that his back looked healthy.

The doctor looked at me, pausing his chart notes, “Theater and dance are two professions people do because it’s what they love. You don’t hear people in that line of work moan, ‘Ugh I have to go to work.’ It’s not like an office job.” He looked towards the ceiling as if struck with a poignant realization, “That would be wonderful,” he said quietly with a gentle smile.

The doctor put down his pen and turned to my son, looking him kindly in the eye, “I really want that for you,” he said, “I want you to really enjoy what you do.” The doctor turned to me, “Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”

I nodded, tears in my eyes.

It would be.

One Year Since My Diagnosis

One year ago today, one word changed much of my life. That word destroyed me. It humiliated me. It turned my perspective upside down. It changed my already complicated relationship with food. It upended my sense of self. It empowered me.

“You have Endometriosis,” my OB/Gyn said after a painful pelvic exam and consultation. I’d waddled into her office in pain, holding back tears, positioning myself precariously on the edge of the exam table so as not to put any pressure on my painful nether regions.

“It feels like when I was pregnant with my second child,” I explained, “and he was stubbornly positioned head down from 19-weeks on.” Just as during those brutal weeks of pregnancy, I was swollen, my pelvis felt heavy, my intestines felt squished, I had the distinct feeling that a bowling ball was trying to exit via my perineum. But, unlike when I was pregnant, I didn’t have a baby-in-waiting to blame for my round-the-clock woes. So I’d visited my doctor hoping for relief and maybe even answers.

“You have almost every symptom,” the doctor explained. “You’re not a candidate for birth control,” I was a unicorn who managed to get every bad and unusual side-effect from hormone-altering medications and I was terribly cyst-prone when on such medicine. “…or Lupron,” she said. Lupron was a not-entirely-effective and sometimes worsening medication that induced temporary menopause, “so you have two options.” I listened intently, not breathing. “You can get pregnant and possibly get some temporary relief,” though I discovered later that my increasingly rough pregnancies were likely due to my Endometriosis flaring during pregnancy… because I’m a freakin’ unicorn. “Or…” I inhaled waiting for her next suggestion, “you can get a radical hysterectomy.”

Everything stopped. My breath. My heart. The world.

2.5-years postpartum from my third child, with a 6- and 4-year-old at home too, I wasn’t exactly looking to add to my youthful herd. But I wasn’t entirely set on nullifying that option either. And I certainly wasn’t looking to have an entire complex operating system within my body extracted either.

I cried. (I do not cry in public.)

I was in no way prepared for this news. My husband wasn’t going to be prepared for this news. I had made the appointment thinking maybe she’d tell me I had another ovarian cyst or some inflammation. I was not thinking organ removal was a possibility. Endometriosis was never on my radar.

After the months in college when I was painfully sick and ran the gamut of medical tests to no avail, after the invasive fertility tests and various doctors I’d seen in a quest to conceive our first child, after conceiving and birthing three children, after undergoing two c-sections, and after having gallbladder removal, NO ONE had even floated that diagnosis. Not in all those years. Not once.

I dried my eyes and waddled back to my car with nothing but a co-pay, an awful diagnosis, and two non-option “treatment” options to show for my doctor visit. I sat in the driver’s seat staring at the steering wheel. My mind was simultaneously spinning and standing still. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted someone to fix this. I wanted to understand what the hell this diagnosis even was!

All I’d ever “known” about Endometriosis prior to that day was that it involved painful PMS and bad periods. And I’d say that horrendously under-informed knowledge base is what most everyone in the general public shared.

Quickly, I discovered how much more Endometriosis entailed. Then I uncovered something else: I knew SO many women who directly suffered from the ailment but they never talked about it.

Like infertility and countless other women’s health issues, Endometriosis was rife with shame. It was considered a “private matter” something to keep secret. All of those “frigid women” we heard and read about in literature and movies, many could have been silently suffering from Endometriosis. And here society blamed and shamed them for a medical condition they never asked to have.

The more I researched, the angrier I got. By a month in, I was incensed. I was angry at the medical community for not researching treatments and for continuing to represent ineffective if not worsening and torturous methods as “solutions.” I was frustrated with perpetually transmitted misinformation. I was mad a fellow suffers’ silence. I was infuriated at society for blaming and shaming and degrading sufferers. I was livid at God/the universe, my body for giving me this curse. After all of my struggles, after all of my efforts, after all I’d conquered, why this? Why me?

But, then, reason descended. Why not this? Why not me? If everything else in my life — good, bad, beautiful, traumatic — had been fortuitous in its ability to lead me in growth and direction, how could this be any different?

So I accepted my diagnosis and decided to give it voice, to be the voice I had so desperately wanted to hear when I was initially diagnosed. If I could stand as an example of unashamed living, others might join me. Maybe. And together — or all on my own — we could chip away at the shame and misinformation and secrecy and medical ignorance that had plagued the Endometriosis community for so long. Maybe. Either way, it was worth a shot.

So, I researched treatments and realized that everything that had been presented to me as my “only options”, were not. Not only were they not likely to work for me, but they were incredibly likely to worsen my condition if not heap other medical woes on top of my already bountiful plate.

I came across two treatments that had some sturdy numbers behind them without all of the nasty side effects. 1) Excision by a vetted physician, 2) dietary adjustments.

I booked an appointment with a semi-local excision specialist to get a pre-op consult. My husband balked, afraid of the prospect of my going under the knife for a fourth time in our relationship. With three young children who relied on me as their primary caretaker and my body’s issues with sedation, he was understandably concerned. So, I cancelled the appointment and opted for diet.

Interestingly, though perhaps less than coincidentally, I had adopted the recommended gluten-free plant-based diet a year prior. However, additional adjustments needed to be made. Take specific supplements. Lower stress. Be active. Reduce, if not eliminate alcohol. Limit soy. Nix chocolate. Avoid processed sugar. Eat as much of a whole foods plant-based diet as possible. Eat like a bunny.

Basically, the goal was to reduce inflammation in the already inflamed body. So, over time, I adjusted my lifestyle and diet. I popped dietary supplements. I ensured I stuck to my daily yoga and meditation routine. I was physically active every day. And — much to my already-deprived chagrin — I relinquished one cherished indulgence after the next.

And now, I’m here. Where is that?

I still have pain. I’m still figuring it all out. BUT I’m better. I am so much better. My cycles are regular for the first time in my life. My pain is lessened. I can walk during ovulation, unlike before when I was bedridden or waddling for 1-3 days.

My flow is still far heavier than any average human, but my switch to using a menstrual cup has been a life changer. Not only am I aware of what is going on with my body and not soaking through three tampons and overnight pads within three waking hours, but I can live my life. No more bleeding through pants or waking up covered in blood. I feel human again, even in my superhuman hyper-menstrual state.

My supplements make a massive difference in my health and pain levels. When I have accidentally skipped one, I suffer for an entire menstrual cycle. I have learned their value.

My daily yoga and meditation is helpful in countless ways. Not only are my inner calm and my inner joy more easily accessible and now my natural inclinations, but I’m more in tune with my body. My stress level — though still in flux as a parent and a human — is lower than before. It takes far more to rile me than it used to. I still have my off days or temperamental times, but they’re less severe than before.

My diet is strict but notably helpful. So, as much as I miss my old dietary freedoms, I appreciate the reduced pain. I eat no gluten, no animal products or byproducts, no chocolate, limited soy, limited alcohol, and a mostly raw plant-based whole foods diet until 5PM each day, at which point I eat cooked gluten-free vegan food. Some days I’ll eat cooked food for lunch, but that is all. Other than coffee and hummus, my breakfast, lunch, and snacks are uncooked whole produce. I physically and energetically feel better. My inflammation is minute. I am comfortable most days.

In terms of how the diagnosis affected my marriage, we’ve been through it over the last year. At least the pain and related anxiety I felt were given an explanation, but they were also not provided any hope of a cure. As much as the struggles caused a rift between us and lead to many nights of tears and anger and resentment and frustration and loneliness while still together, my husband and I found a way to work together. To appreciate and celebrate when things DO work.

We communicate about what works and what doesn’t, what is working — in terms of my actual physical body — and what isn’t, what hurts and what doesn’t, where I am in my cycle. That communication is key. It keeps us connected, him aware, and helps me not feel so alone in my struggle. My journey.

And, so, a year later I am a year wiser. I am a year stronger. I am a year healthier. I am a year more determined not to let Endometriosis rule me.

After all, Endometriosis isn’t a death sentence; it’s a life sentence. And this is my life.

Learning How To Be Me

I recently completed a renowned, demanding, enlightening 200-hour yoga teacher training program. What was the most valuable thing I learned? Not breath work practices or class design, not yogic philosophy or sanskrit, not trauma-informed teaching or anatomically appropriate cueing. Nope. (I mean, I did learn alllll of that and more, but none of those topics were the most important, life-altering item.)

The most valuable thing I learned: how to be brave enough to be myself. Unabashedly. Unwaveringly. Unapologetically.

I’ve spent most of my 35 years on this earth trying to blend in. Trying to find my true herd. Trying to fit some unexplained mold it seemed most everyone else knew how to contort themselves into.

Any time I was close to blending in, I felt like a fraud. A chipped and chiseled, morphed and shrouded version of some human who barely resembled me.

My solution for most of my childhood through early adulthood was to wall myself off. To protect myself. I was quiet. Private. Guarded. I created protective divisions between myself and others. But, as shielding as that was, it was also incredibly lonely. By separating myself from everyone else, by mentally ascribing the self-protective label of “acquaintance” to individuals who should have been considered “friend”, I was isolating myself. I was reinforcing the idea that I was “other” and unable to belong.

Then, I had my daughter. The confidence that grew within me, the drive I felt to be a healthy example for her propelled me out from behind my self-built blockades. I began to shimmy out of my shell. I began to shine my light, but hesitantly so.

Then I had my middle son. His effervescent self-confidence and complete disinterest in following social norms astounded me. Inspired me. Enlightened me. If this 2.5-year-old could so fearlessly be himself, why couldn’t I? So I began to. Slowly. In certain safe scenarios.

Next, I had my youngest son and, by this point, with 3 kids under 4, I was often the focus of many unfamiliar eyes as I walked through the grocery store or wrangled my herd on the playground. There was no hiding anymore. I was out in the world and I was actually beginning to enjoy it. I tasted the freedom beyond my own walls, the beauty of the connections I allowed, the authenticity I granted myself. But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my whole self yet.

Then, I began yoga teacher training. Every other weekend for 6 months I spent 12 hours with 33 people I had never met. We shared our feelings and life journeys, we grew and learned, we practiced and faltered, we cried and laughed. We became accustomed to speaking in front of one another, sharing ourselves. That baring of self to a large group was something I never would have been capable of doing prior to motherhood. But, 3 kids and hours of yoga teacher training later, I could. And I was unscathed. If anything, I was enlivened, strengthened, invigorated.

As months pressed on and more sharing circle times ensued, the electric anxiety that initially sizzled in my chest and stole my breath in the beginning of the training subsided. It was replaced with calm. With happiness. With ease.

My light shown brighter and I began not to hide it. I didn’t chisel or chip or morph or shroud. I was just me in my life in my world. And gradually I realized that all of those fears and worries that’d kept me hidden and crumpled for all of those years were nothing to be feared at all. For, if I loved me… if I was kindly and brightly and truly me, those who liked me — the real me — would gravitate and stay. And that’s what mattered.

I owned my laughter. I owned my quirks. I owned my silliness. I owned my stubbornness. I owned my crunchy spirituality. I owned my strengths and my points for growth. I owned my uniqueness. I owned my self.

Over those six months, I learned how to comfortably exist without a self-made fortress amidst others. I learned how to make choices that are good for ME and not just for others. I learned how to be myself no matter the circumstance, no matter the company. I learned to ignore whatever mold I was expected to chisel and melt and contort myself into.

I learned how to be ME!

After all of the hours of training and studying and the dreaded test, came graduation. In front my teachers and fellow trainees, and everybody’s loved ones, I thanked my friend who saw in me what I had not seen in myself and had, in that awareness, lovingly propelled me towards yoga teacher training. I thanked my husband for all of the parenting efforts he’d shouldered — without hesitation or complaint — and I thanked my teachers who had facilitated my growth. I thanked my daughter for her unwavering support. I thanked my youngest son for his “welcome home” cuddles after every yoga training. I thanked my middle son — my sparkly boy, my fearlessly true-to-self child — and tears welled in my dry eyes.

My voice halted. I — strong and tearless me — was crying in front of 60+ people thanking my 5-year-old. But I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t want to run or hide or steel myself into unfeeling. I was being me. The real me.

“Thank you,” I said to my coiffed boy in his pink shirt, violet tie, and gray kilt. “For teaching me how to be brave enough to be me.”

When I returned home that evening and tucked each of my beautifully unique children into bed, I thanked my middle son again. “For most of my life,” I told him, “I wasn’t myself.” He looked at me puzzled and asked, “Then who were you being?”

I paused in awe of his wisdom. I replied, “I was too afraid to be the real me.” “Why?” He questioned.

“Exactly.”

My 3-Year-Old Shocked Me

Sometimes your kids do things that shock you. That amaze you. That make you realize the impact you have on them. That make you recognize how beautiful they truly are. Yesterday that happened for me.

Three days ago, I bought my littlest a smoothie. As I don’t carry a change purse, I placed my coin change in the “Take a Penny/Leave a Penny” receptacle since there was no tip jar. “Why’d you do that?” Asked my 3-year-old. “Because when I put coins in there I’m helping someone else. If I need a coin one day, I can use it. If someone else needs a coin, they can use it. We help each other, right?” He nodded.

Three days and much activity later, we were in the mall — my 3-year-old, 7-year-old, and I — shopping to replenish my 7-year-old’s outgrown wardrobe while my 5-year-old son was at a birthday party. “If you do a good job, we can get ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s,” I told them (Bribery works! No shame here.)

While searching for the children’s section in a large store, my littlest sprung up in his stroller. “I found a coin!” He proclained gleefully. He held up the dingy dime to the light, admiring. He — in true tender-hearted, utterly cheesy form — hugged the dime to his heart complete with closed eyes and a maternal smile. He. Was. Ridiculous.

BUT this dirty little coin was keeping him happily occupied during our shopping expedition, so no complaints here! Hug a lint ball. Cuddle a napkin. Canoodle with a rubberband. Whatever it takes, kid.

And who would’ve guessed? That vagrant dime got us through an entire shopping trip sans melodrama. That’s right, an hour of shopping and not one peep from the stroller occupant. It was a miracle! So, as per the bribe, we headed for the Ben & Jerry’s kiosk.

“I need to go potty!” My 3-year-old loudly informed me as we entered the main portion of the mall. And so we scurried to the restrooms. (My speed invigorated by years old visions of the humbling time I had to strip down my now-5-year-old all the way down to his Paw Patrol shoes and wrap him in his coat like a toga all because I hadn’t made it to this very restroom in time.) No coat toga today! I told myself. Scurrying through the food court, zigzagging through meandering patrons, dodging mopping staff, calling “Gotta keep up!” to my 7-year-old who raced behind me, her eyes wide and sparkly light-up sneakers blinking to the beat of her gait. WE MADE IT!

After he finished his bathroom duties, my 3-year-old fetched his coin from the stroller. “He needs a bath.” He told me as he gingerly washed the coin. I smiled at the sweet silliness. After he’d tenderly dried his beloved dime, he climbed face first into the stroller– because who doesn’t climb with their face? — and off we went to Ben & Jerry’s.

As we awaited our dairy-free scoops of Coconut Almond Fudge, my littlest peered over the counter watching the young employees buzz about. Perpetually in motion. Perpetually friendly. “Mommy, can you lift me up?” I hoisted his sturdy frame out of the stroller to broaden his view of the ice cream happenings. He scanned the counter. “Hi!” Smiled one of the young women hurriedly scooping ice cream as she crinkled her nose at him. He grinned, shyly tucking his chin into his chubby neck. Then he shocked me.

As another young employee kindly handed us our ice cream, my 3-year-old looked at his dime and, without saying a thing, placed it in the tip jar, then casually climbed back into his stroller. “He gave us a dime!” The attendant shrieked to her coworker. They both cooed and thanked him. I stared at him in amazement. Disbelief.

This kid had literally given his last dime — the dime he’d hugged and cuddled for the last hour, the dime he’d bathed in a public restroom sink — to these strangers. He did so without hesitation. Without regret.

As he sat enjoying every bite of his well-earned ice cream I stared at him in amazement. In wonder. In pride. In admiration. This child who bellyflops in mud puddles, climbs with his face, curiously takes apart any toy, cries from his heart if he’s done wrong, loves earnestly but makes you earn any affection… this child has so much to teach me. So much to share. So much to give.

“That was nice of you to give them your dime,” I said to him. “We help each other,” he said, scooping another bite of fudgy ice cream into his chocolate smeared mouth.

We do.

THAT Mom

I round the corner of the grocery aisle, bypassing a sugary end cap display of Valentine’s Day goodies, when I hear it. Raptor-like shrieking and guttural bellows. Followed by the unmistakable toddler sqwak: “Yellow!” The toddler tantrum that’s migrated from one end of the store to the other has reached its peak at register 15. And something yellow is clearly either mortally offensive or exceedingly desirable.

Pushing my cart of food and — on this incredibly rare occasion — not children, I smile reflecting on my own plentiful experiences being THAT mom. THAT mom with the toddler flailing belly down in the cereal aisle. THAT mom with the nap-refusing child following me down every aisle in an unending tirade of tot tyranny. THAT mom wearing a breastfeeding infant while rushing a potty-training toddler in football hold across a crowded store shouting for her preschooler to keep up. THAT mom asking her toddler not to headbutt her sternum while telling her preschooler not to chew on his shoe — his freakin’ SHOE! — and coaxing her dramatic kindergartener mid-meltdown through the produce section. You know, THAT mom.. human birth control.

I sigh with relief that this time it’s not me. And head towards checkout.

I approach a register and peer down the lane to assess to line length. And: “YEEEELLLLLLLLOW!!!” rings out just feet in front of me. That’s when I realize I am at ground zero. Register 15.

Then I see it.

The eye roll.

The woman at the front of the line scoffs at the melodious cart behind her, eyes the cashier, and does a judgy eye roll towards THAT mom. If I trusted my aim, I would be tempted to chuck a box of black bean pasta at the judgy eye-rolling scoffer. But I don’t. So I don’t.

Then I see THAT mom. Long dark hair, which is beautifully wavy likely from lack of brushing rather than dedicated styling, steadily moving edibles from her car-shaped shopping cart to the conveyor belt while simultaneously kindly conversing with her one smiling toddler and patiently addressing the emotional upheaval of her second only slightly older toddler. THAT mom was a mom of TWO toddlers and she was completely capable of triple-tasking with the graceful patience of a Buddhist monk after having grocery shopped with said offspring, yet the child-free (at least at the moment) woman ahead of her could not muster enough emotional fortitude to stand without judgment or snark at the front of the checkout line? Cue yoga breath.
I push past and find the next register line brief. I load my groceries on the belt and say a little wishful prayer for THAT mom. I feel gratitude that this time it is not me in her position but I feel guilt that it is her turn instead.

Receipt in hand, I push my cart of bagged food out towards the parking lot and I see THAT mom parked along the side of the aisle. She’s rummaging through her cart — one toddler gazing at the ceiling, one toddler wailing — promising “I’ll find it!” to the tantrumer.

I stop my cart beside hers, pat her upper arm, and with a reassuring smile say, “You’re doing great.” She looks up at me, her eyes warm despite her mind swiftly spinning, and smiles. “Thanks,” she sighs.

As I near the doors I feel it. Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, the familiar knot of exhaustion, the churn of anxiety, the wear of endlessly giving, the sting of judgment (both external and internal) that this time is hers and not my own. I keep moving.

Allergy Mom Saved

Oh man, did I fail! I failed hard. And publicly. And the mom guilt was overwhelming. I’m 6-years an allergy mom; I should have known better!

When you’re an allergy mom (the parent to one or more children with allergies), the little things few even consider are monumental to you. What’s everyday to most strikes visceral fear into an allergy parent. What’s a minute kindness to the thoughtful is joyful tear-inducing and heartwarming to an allergy parent. What is an easily remedied oversight to the dietarily unimpaired is an irreversible Mom Fail for an allergy parent.

Yesterday my daughter’s class had a family gathering celebration, which featured a beautiful and entirely unexpected bountiful buffet of edible goodies. My daughter grinned as we stood in line for the surprise smorgasbord. As I grabbed a paper plate, my eyes darted from one platter to the next. Bagels and cream cheese, doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, fruit, juice, coffee… it was a carb carnival. Giddy classmates across the buffet heaped sugary treats onto already full plates. I looked down at my daughter. Her smile was wilting. She’d seen what I saw.

Like my middle son and me, my daughter has a dairy allergy. She could eat none of the sweets. I shook off the guilt and tried for a spin. “Fruit!” I exclaimed, trying to make it sound incredibly appealing as I scooped fresh spoonfuls of delectable produce onto her plate. “Ooo! There’s melon and pineapple and, look, there are four different kinds of berries!” She strained to see down the table, then the smile was gone entirely. “Plain bagel?” I offered, knowing full well that a dry bagel was of no consolation. Mom guilt flaired.

I looked to my husband with an unmistakable “Oh crap!” expression. He shrugged, wordlessly communicating, “There’s nothing we can do.” Ugh, I’d Mom Failed… hard.

“Why don’t you go with Daddy to find a table and I’ll keep looking. Ooo, I’ll grab you some juice!” Juice is this side of a delicacy for our kids, so I figured that’d help something somewhat.

I was wrong.

I circled the all-purpose room full of sugar-shocked kids and chatting parents, and then I found them. My husband and daughter were seated at an empty table. I placed the plate of fruit and cup of orange juice in front of my daughter. Eyes reddened, shoulders hunched, she was too upset to engage. Just then a trio of bubbly blond buddies sat down beside us. They warmly greeted my daughter as they dug into their plates of dairy-laiden goodies. That’s when the tears came.

I rubbed her back in gentle circles with the palm of my hand, just as I did when she was a crying baby on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, sweetheart! Sometimes these things happen. Can I get you some mango?” I whispered to my daughter, trying to assuage her disappointment. “No!” “Do you want a bagel?” “No!” “Should we go for a walk in the hallway?” “No! You’re being mean.” I knew she didn’t actually think that I, personally, was being mean but as Mom you get all blame and little credit. And in this situation I was getting every shred of blame.

“What’s wrong?” One of her kind friends asked mid-cupcake. “She can’t eat the treats,” I explained. The girls looked emphatic but wisely offered my daughter space to process the disappointment. “Can I go back to the classroom and grab her lunchbox?” a thoughtful mom friend offered. I declined the loving gesture knowing desserts were the desire.

I looked at my husband, hoping maybe he’d have somehow miraculously discovered a solution. No dice. I took a deep breath and headed to the buffet for one last ditch effort, Hail Mary hopeful spin. That’s when I saw them.

SCHOOL SAFE CUPCAKES! I dropped on my knees and picked up the package, bringing it closer to my aging eyes to ensure it wasn’t some sort of mom guilt mirage. “No dairy… no nuts…” the packaging read. My heart leaped! I could’ve hugged that plastic packaging! I could’ve kissed whoever had the forethought to bring them!

I grabbed two of the allergy-friendly mini cupcakes and excitedly walked to the table. “I FOUND TREATS!” I squealed. My daughter’s spine shot upright, a broad grin bloomed across her tear-reddened face. She dug right into the safe-for-her goodies with giddy abandon.

“I don’t usually like cupcakes,” she said to me with bits of vanilla frosting circling her mouth, “but I like these!”

The gratitude I felt in that moment for those miniature, plastic-packaged cupcakes, for the individual who included them on the buffet, for the positive resolution of the disappointment was overwhelming. Who’d have thought I’d get misty-eyed over a cupcake?

That afternoon on the way home from school I reviewed with my daughter the pitfalls of the morning and better methods of handling such disappointments. “You have food allergies,” I explained, “so there will be times in life when you simply cannot eat anything at a gathering. Mommy won’t always be there to pack you food to bring. So you will need to find ways to access your inner happiness despite not being able to participate like everyone else.” My daughter nodded with an entirely straight face. “It’s not fair,” I said, speaking from a place of my own such disappointments, “but remember that you get to choose whether to let food ruin your fun or whether to have fun anyway.”

And that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it? Our choices in how we react to situations. We can choose disappointment and circular mourning, or we can choose joy and resilience. It’s entirely up to us.

Though, of course, an (allergy-friendly) cupcake makes just about anything better.