Tag Archives: Society

What it Feels Like for a Woman

Key the whining and complaining.  The ugly-crying and drowning of sorrows in a pint of mint chocolate chip.  The “Man-Hating”, and ultra-feministic points of view.  You know, or whatever stereotypical depiction you may have envisioned in your head.

While the following post doesn’t necessarily follow the mission of this blog, which is to put forth everyday experiences and information about “Grief, Love and Life After Loss”, it is my blog so I’ll indulge my creative whim and also attempt an (admittedly weak) tie in, but as the mother of daughters, it’s a form of grief, and  very real fear in life I have for her.  Yes, her, not them.  If you’ve read any of this blog before you’ll know I have one living daughter, and one who has died.  If you’re a new reader, I encourage you to read more about our Miss Elliott, whose beautiful but ultimately too short life was the inspiration for this work, as well as her book: Three Short Years

As women, we’re barraged by shoulds constantly.  A woman should be ____________.  You decide.  But don’t worry, if you can’t (and really, why should you worry your pretty little head over it?) someone else will inevitably fill in the blank for you .  We’re told to smile more, but not too much.  Be strong, but gentle.  Speak up, but don’t be loud.  A woman should be all thing sugar and spice, and everything nice.  A woman should Lean In, but not make a habit of wearing too many pantsuits.  A woman should…oh geez, even I’m getting tired of reading this…and I could go on and on.

Yesterday on a call for work I was speaking to a grief counselor local to the area we’ll soon be hosting our next conference and asking her about helping to facilitate some of the sessions we hold for grieving parents.  One of her quotes, in particular stuck with me:

“Don’t should on yourself.”

Yes!

So here’s the point I’m getting at:  don’t take a snippet of a woman, her attire, her expression, her anything, and tell her who she is or who she has to be.  You don’t get to decide.  And what makes you think that who you view her as is a relevant factor to her, anyway?  And women, listen up:  none of that needs to determine your self-worth.  YOU decide…that’s why it’s called SELF worth.

I was frustrated after what was just an otherwise boring trip to the grocery store, when my husband called and asked how my day was going.

“Just another incident that reiterates how difficult it is to be a woman in our society today,” I told him.  Please let me clarify.  I know that in the United States we (all of us) are afforded many basic rights and needs that are often denied to others.  I have no political agenda in this post, and this is not a global issues blog.  I’m just opening up from a human perspective of very small and ultimately inconsequential happenstance in my own life.

While rounding a blind corner with my cart I nearly collided with another patron.  It was neither of our faults, but being a generally courteous person and upholding a very low level of human decency I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, excuse me!” and smiled.

This must have been where I went wrong, but women smile sometimes.  It’s not an invitation for anything.  It doesn’t mean we want you.  It’s just a pleasantry.

“You don’t need to apologize for anything,” the man said.  “And besides, you’re really pretty.  Do you know that?”

“Oh, well thanks,” I sing-song cooed over my shoulder as I tried to keep going.

“No, you really are.  And I know how long it takes to do all that hair and makeup stuff because I watch Amy Schumer.  Do you know who she is? She’s a little crass sometimes, but she tells us guys how it is and how much work it takes so I try to work it in to my compliments and I just wanted you to know that.”

WHAT?  I think to myself, feeling pretty creeped out.

“Um ok, well thanks again…” I spat out quickly and I was practically wheels up rolling away as fast as I could (before he said something else) while he just stood there watching me leave, wondering if this creepy dude was about to follow me out to my car.

I was wearing my super chic ripped jeans and a striped tee, by the way, so you know, all that effort and all…

Be friendly, but not too friendly.  Smile, but don’t over do it.  You don’t want to be a bitch, (which is what someone will inevitably call you if you don’t conform to their momentary standards), the voices swirl.

All these things society continually puts on women, and here I was reiterating to my husband how due to nothing more than probability in genetics he will never have to know what encounters like these make a woman feel like. He won’t have the onslaught of unwanted and unwelcomed interactions that most women contend with, often daily.

Last week my best friend went to her regular tanning salon.  She checked in and waited for the bed to become available.  A man at the desk said to the clerk, “So you’re gonna give up my bed to her?”  “Oh, I’m sorry.  We’re you waiting for that bed?  You can go ahead of me.” she replied.  “Nah, I just thought maybe we could share it.” he retorted, and smiled, obviously proud of himself for such a witty come on.

“And that’s how daddy and I met,” #saidnowomanever (Google this hashtag if you’re not familiar with it).

boxing-woman

“Uh, no thanks.” she told him.  Suddenly he wasn’t smiley and suave anymore, but instantly became sullen and rude.

Though they may seem anecdotal, stories like these are an ongoing issue for many woman.  Interactions that should be of no consequence whatsoever become a source of stress and discomfort and unfairly put women on the defensive.  They cause women to question their everyday actions such as how they do their hair or makeup, what they wear, where they go, who they interact with, and how, etc.  All of these factors, amongst many, many others contribute to what it feels like to be a woman in society today, and perpetuate the victim blaming mentality.

Without going completely off topic on another tangent, this reminds me of the best anti-rape article I ever read.  It explained that when we tell our young men and boys the reason not to rape a woman is to think of her as your sister, mother, daughter, etc. all we’re doing is reaffirming who she is in relation to a man.  The real reason to not rape a woman doesn’t have anything to do with who she is to them, it’s because she’s a human being, all on her own.

So?  Don’t should on yourselves, ladies.  Don’t apologize for your existence.  Chauvinism may be alive and well, but in the immortal words of Meghan Trainor:

“…listen up…lick your lips and swing your hips, girl all you gotta say is…”

NO!

Then turn around and walk away, tall.

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Better Than Me

“She’s beautiful!” they tell me.  And I know she is, not just in my eyes, but by all conventional American standards, she is.  Chestnut eyes, straight nose, high cheekbones, supple lips, long flowing dark, but sun-kissed hair, and easily tanned skin.  She’s gorgeous.

“She’s a mini you, gorgeous like her mommy”, they say.

“Daddy’s got his work cut out for him,” they continue.

“Hope he carries a bat”, it goes on.

And it’s fine. I beam with pride at the shallow, and ultimately meaningless compliments, like any other mother would.  But she’s so much more than that.  And that’s the true, total package.  She works hard, brings home straight A report cards.  Is artistic, and creative, and thinks outside the box.  She’s a friend to everyone, caring, compassionate, and thoughtful.  Easy going, quick to lend a hand…obviously I could go on and on.

Skylar

Skylar, Age 11

My point is, that I relish it as my own success.  As a mother, I want nothing more than the best for her and for her to be the best, at everything.  I’ve never understood the theory that mothers and daughters clash because once a daughter comes along the focus is suddenly taken off of the women who had it on her since childhood.  Essentially that her mini-replacement has come along and she’s no longer the star of the show.

What?!  As a mother I truly don’t understand this.  And I think if you feel that way, you probably shouldn’t have had children at all, at least not in this stage of your life because it seems to me that if you aren’t able to put them before yourself you can’t have their best interest at heart.  I want my daughter to be prettier than me, stronger than me, smarter than me, and more successful.  I want her to have it ALL.

“I’ll bet she looks just like you at that age, Becky”, someone recently told me.  Ha!  She couldn’t have been more wrong.  I was gawky with no style,  big glasses, and a bad perm.  No, my daughter seems to have not had to endure the same awkward phase that plagued me from the ages of eight to fifteen.

Me Age 10

Me, age 10 with mid 90’s
style choker and Seinfeld Puffy Shirt.

Conversely, I’ve also endured comments related to my daughter’s looks as more of a consolation prize rather than a compliment.  When Miss Elliott was alive, I distinctly remember one person, upon learning of her terminal status remarked , “Well she sure is pretty, and you can love her anyway”.

WTF?

I mean, thank goodness she was pretty too, right…or there would be no reason to love my dying child as I love my heathy one.

photo 1

Miss Elliott, age 3 years 3 1/2 months

Okay, I know people don’t mean the stupid things they say to sound so ridiculously degrading, but honestly it’s so tiring that sometimes I would rather they just stay silent.  And if they simply can’t muster up that ability and feel compelled to have to say something, let it be a simple I’m sorry.

I know you can’t imagine.  I know you don’t know how I do it.  I know (insert your own meaningless platitude here), but none of it matters or changes the situation.  A simple I’m sorry, is really the only thing of value you have to give me anyway.

And for the record, Miss Elliott was pretty.  She had bright green eyes, milky smooth skin and hair far lighter than I could have ever imagined any of my children being born with (all three thanks to her Daddy’s Irish ancestry).  And I loved the hell out of her.  I still do.

And I wanted better for her, too.  Better than for me.  And do you know what?  She got it.  She knew nothing in her Three Short Years but unconditional love.  She never endured pain, rejection, or abuse.  She lived and died a perfect being with a pure soul.

These things, more than just our little girls being pretty should be what we celebrate as accomplishments in parenthood, and life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symbolic Mourning

I couldn’t be more thankful to Rebecca Chappell, whom I’ve (unfortunately) had the pleasure to get to know over the last year through the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, for sharing her story of Symbolic Mourning after the loss of her beautiful and precious Colby earlier this year.

Rebecca and Colby

When my son died, his absence felt almost tangible. There is of course the absence of his physical presence, but because of his special needs there was also the absence of the machines and the people that helped us provide the extra care that made his life possible. Colby was diagnosed at eight months with Canavan, a degenerative neurological disease, where he would never develop skills beyond that of a 2 month old. In addition to always having the needs of a newborn, he also needed a suction machine to clear his airways, a stander to prevent problems to his muscles and joints that would come from not being able to stand and walk, special chairs that held up his head and kept him from falling sideways, a nebulizer that helped him breathe. He required constant attention.

While the reality of having people and machines in my home and the constant demand of a completely dependent child were not something I would have chosen, they had become my way of life. Now that they were all gone, the house was empty and my life had changed overnight. I felt lonely and without purpose. My arms that had constantly held Colby were now empty and the pictures from his life didn’t feel like enough to fill such an enormous void. I wanted to scream at people when they asked how I was doing, “my son just died, how do you think I am doing?”  I also felt offended when people didn’t ask or didn’t know. I began to feel that I needed some way to remember him, to share him, to literally mark myself as the mother of an angel.

As I struggled with feelings of grief that I didn’t know how to express, I realized that what I needed was to “mourn” my son. In years past people would go into “mourning” after the death of a loved one. They would follow social conventions of the time, including wearing black for a designated period. This allowed the person that had lost a loved one to express their grief, but also let others know so they could offer condolences.  Today most people don’t wear black or even have a time set aside to mourn. It left me feeling like life is just supposed to go “back to normal”, which of course it never would for me. Every time I left the house or did “normal” things I felt like I was betraying Colby’s memory. A part of me died with my son and I could not return to life as if he had never existed. I decided what I needed was a symbol of my grief, a symbol that I was in mourning.

I wanted something to represent my grief, to remind me of the special bond between Colby and I and give me the opportunity to talk about my son all at the same time.  My first thought was a tattoo, but depending on where it is placed it wouldn’t be as visual as I had in mind. Some people are able to wear or carry something that belonged to their loved one, but Colby didn’t have a lot of things that could be used for this purpose. I also researched different types of jewelry but nothing really fit my image of what I wanted. So I decided to put together my own bracelet, which itself ended up being a therapeutic process. I wanted it to be mainly black as a traditional representation of mourning, so I purchased some black beads and a black ribbon to string them all. Next I found charms that would remind me of him; a heart, a prayer charm, a dragonfly, the first letter of his name, his birthstone, and finally a tiny frame for his photo.

Creating my mourning bracelet has had the desired effect for me. I am proud to wear it. It is my outward symbol that while my life may have changed, Colby is not forgotten. The beads softly click together as I move my arm, quietly paying tribute to my angel son as I go about my day. More than one person has mention that it is beautiful, and one mother, who had also lost a child, even said she would buy one from me it I wanted to start making them. The void he left is still enormous but the heavy feeling that I am not doing enough to remember him has been lifted and no matter where I am I can look down on my wrist and see him smiling back up at me.

Bracelet

No Words

“You can be amazing you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug” -Sara Bareilles, Brave

Words hold power.  The power we assign to them.  We get to decide what they mean, and we can do so on an individual basis.  They can mean one thing to one person and quite another to someone else.  In this situation we’re at risk for our sentiment being lost in translation, so to speak.  Words convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  With them we can tell stories and share moments in time.  We can even recall memories and give those meaning as well.  They can also be used to hurt.  Though they may not break your bones the way we’ve been taught that sticks and stones will, sometimes words will hurt you even more.  All the words in the world, all of their uses, meanings, and inferences, and sometimes we can’t seem to find a single one to do us justice.

What do we do when words escape us?  How then do we convey those thoughts and feelings whelming up inside of our hearts and minds?

This week I found myself standing in front of the greeting card section of my local grocery store.  I was there to buy a card to send to a friend.  I wanted her to know I was thinking of her. I wanted her to know I was remembering her son’s life, the anniversary of his birth and subsequent death later that same day.  I wanted her to know he is not forgotten.

I stood there, in front of the cards searching for the right one.  The one to convey my sympathy, unfortunately, my empathy and also comfort to her as well.  There were cards that expressed you were thinking of someone, cards of support, and cards of sympathy for loss of grandparents, parents, spouses…and even pets.  Yes, pets.  But there were no cards for loss of a son or daughter.  Loss of pets, but not of children.

Cards

They don’t make cards for that, not that they stock at that store anyway.  They don’t make words for that.  When you lose a parent you are called an orphan.  When you lose a spouse you are called a widow(er).  The very idea of loss of a child in our society is so unthinkable, unimaginable, horrific, and taboo that we do not even have a word for it.  It is literally unspeakable.

Nothing works more efficiently to keep uncomfortable, unenviable, hopefully ignorable pieces of society locked away in the shadows than lack of speech.  And that’s exactly where society wants to keep it, us.  Why?  We’re scary.  We know you want to keep us at bay.  We get it.  We know how daunting it is to talk about, how difficult to imagine, and truthfully, how alarming it is for you to even think to pull us from the shadows and to be forced into the light of knowledge to concede that you look just like us and in further consideration that you could, in fact, be us.  After all, isn’t everyone afraid that if our light were to shine too brightly and you got too close that your wings might melt?

Nothing makes us feel like more of a monster to be hidden from than being expected to exist only in those shadows.

It’s a simple sentiment that means the entire world to parents of lost children; we want to know that you still remember.  We know they are gone.  You will never remind us of that fact.  We live with the scars of their loss every day.  We just want to know that you remember they ever were here in the first place.  Not to make you uncomfortable, not to punish you, or push you away but for our own soul’s soothing.  For our broken heart’s sake.

My child lived.  She was a person.  She mattered. I have thoughts and memories of her that permeate every day of my life.

Sing her name unto my ears and let the beauty and magic of her spirit radiate into my heart and soul.

“Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out, honestly, I wanna see you be brave” – Sara Barelilles, Brave

I Was Too Ashamed, So I Lied.

Last night at the elementary school my daughter attends we went to watch her and the other fifth graders give their presentations at Night of the Notables.  It’s an evening where they present their research projects on historical figures who helped shape America as we know it today.  I think this is a great idea.  When you combine history and research, then couple it with presentations, it’s an active and engaging way to learn.

What I wasn’t so stoked about was my daughter coming to me on Monday morning telling me that she had to dress up like Queen Elizabeth I for her presentation…tomorrow…night at school.  “Oh yeah, I had a flyer about it in my Friday folder,” she said  Great, I thought.  Time to get creative.  In a mad dash to the nearest thrift shop I was on the hunt for some Elizabethan type anything I could fine.  Since it happens to be the week of Halloween there was actually plenty of items to choose from, if I wanted to shell out $39.99 for the dress plus additional money for accessories that is.

I did not.  Maybe if she would have been using it as her Halloween costume as well, instead of just for an hour at a school event I wouldn’t have minded so much, but she wasn’t.  So instead I found some used junk I thought I could piece together and for $12.00 and change I created an (albeit more Victorian than Elizabethan) dress for her to wear.  I sewed all day.

Voila!
Before and after:
Before
After

I knew this would be good enough for the fifth grade home room event, but I also hopped my daughter would like it.  That she would appreciate it and the time I put into it, not just expect it to materialize without a second thought.  Truthfully, it annoys the crap out of me that schools tell kids they have to dress up, and that part of their grade it dependent on it.  Just like it frustrates me how much parents are asked to spend on school supplies or even field trips these days.  Let alone, pictures, sports, events, classroom magazines and other materials.  Yes, some of these are required, and some are “optional”.  But even for the ones that are “optional”, if you don’t “choose” to participate, your creating an outcast of your child.  A line drawn in the sand of haves and have-nots, of doers and don’ters.  We’re just lucky that we’re able to be a family who has the ability to pay for this never ending list of school room needs.  What if other families honestly don’t have the money for any of it?  It’s not always as simple as being a lack-luster parent who’s not engaging enough and not putting enough care, concern, or emphasis on education.  Sometimes it’s about not having the money to do so.

The reason I was so gung ho to track down an outfit that day, to pay money for it, and spend my time sewing it together was simple:  I didn’t want my daughter to feel like I did.  I too had a time when I needed to dress as a historical figure in school…and my grade depended on it.  It was seventh grade, and I was Helen Keller.  I remember so clearly how all the popular girls, the ones who wore Calvin Klein and Doc Martens, got together over the weekend and rented period specific costumes from the local community college’s drama department.  I was so envious of them standing in their exclusive circle talking about how they went together with their mothers over the weekend to make sure they had the perfect costume to wear that day.

I wore a ribbed white t-shirt, Levis, and imitation combat boots from K-Mart.  I thought these things were nice because they were all store bought, and for once not from a yard sale, but I still knew they weren’t cool.  I knew better than to even ask my parents to help me put together a costume.  There was nothing in the house to use and I knew the money wasn’t there to buy anything.  There was no extra money in our house, period.  And I didn’t want to make them feel worse than they already did by asking.  I already knew they wished they could give me more.  I knew that if the money had ben there my mother would have happily driven me down to the drama department and I would have had a fabulous period dress on that morning too, but I didn’t.  So I lied.  I got up to make my speech and included a completely made up portion about how I dressed this way because my (Helen Keller’s) favorite thing to do was to wear my brother’s clothes because they were more comfortable to run around and play in.  The teacher didn’t buy it, and I got marked down for “not dressing up”.

Of course I knew it was wrong to lie even then, that it always is, but at that moment I wasn’t strong enough not to.  I was too ashamed so I made what felt like the easier and less embarrassing choice.  In reality, no child should ever be made to feel this way over something so completely superficial and out of their control, but in reality they do.  I’ve never told my parents, or anyone about that day.  Like I said, I didn’t want them to feel even worse because they couldn’t provide what I “needed”.  As a twelve year old girl, I wasn’t as attuned to speaking up for myself back then as I am now, so I just took the lower grade my teacher doled out and went on with the day feeling crummy.

It shouldn’t matter, but I want to make sure my daughter always has  what she needs to be successful in school, like the perfect costume.  It shouldn’t matter, but it does.  I want to make sure she succeeds, and in my mind part of that means making her feel like she fits in and doesn’t have to hold back because the money isn’t there.  My husband grew up in the same type of household and he too understands and shares the same feelings of being an outcast because your family didn’t have money for new clothes or extravagant Christmas presents like other kids’ families did.

Adolescence is an awkward time that’s hard enough with the pressure you get from other kids.  Children shouldn’t have to worry about it coming from the adults in their lives too.  Teachers should know better than to add to it and should be more sensitive toward these situations, especially in the public school system where you encounter all ranges of diversity. Furthermore, as adults (who interact with children daily) they should understand, without a word, when a child cannot willingly or openly share how uncomfortable they are when they may not be able to ante up, so to speak, along with the rest of the group.  And they most certainly shouldn’t be docked participation points for it.

Queen Elizabeth I in action:
QEI

I think her smile shows just how proud she was of her costume, and from
a child who’s already gone through so much, that smile’s all I need to see.

People with Special Needs Do Not Exist as a Token for Your Entertainment

I recently discovered an “article” (I say article while sarcastically surrounding the word in air quotes as I speak) online unbelievably titled “The Top 20 Special Needs Movie Character Ever”.  One glimpse at the opening line, which was: “This list isn’t meant to offend” in an article consisting entirely of just five simple sentences, and you could easily see that this beginning statement was either a thinly veiled disclaimer or an attempt at a preemptive apology for the disgraceful content that was to follow.

This article serves to perpetuate the culturally prevalent idea in our society that applying the label of ‘special needs’ to individuals, whether they are people whom actually exist or those that have been fictitiously created, makes them novel or trivial and diminishes their contributions to our society’s idea of what makes a life important and valuable.

To set the record straight, let’s start by explaining what the term ‘special needs’ really means.  Such a person is one whom has special educational requirements due to learning difficulties, emotional or behavioral issues, and/or physical disabilities.  This could be a child in need of an aide in the classroom to perform certain tasks, a modified exercise in Physical Education for someone with a physical disability, even altering the environment to be understanding and supportive to the sensitivities of someone with sensory issues, or a myriad of other implementations.   It boils down to making sure that an individual has what they need to succeed in their pursuit of education, and subsequently, in society.

In order to avoid funneling any more unnecessary traffic to this webpage, I will refrain from posting the actual link to the article here.  I will however, post their list for the purposes of this discussion, which is as follows:

1.   Rosie O’Donnel in Riding the Bus with my Sister
2.   Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
3.   Sloth from Goonies
4.   Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade
5.   Hanson from Scary Move 2
6.   Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump
7.   Kristen Stewart in The Cake Eaters
8.   Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite
9.   Warren from There’s Something About Mary
10. Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio
11. Dustin Hoffman in Rainman
12. Booger from Revenge of the Nerds
13. Molly Shannon in Superstar
14. Sean Penn in I Am Sam
15. Hank from Drop Dead Gorgeous
16. Adam Sandler in Billy Madison
17. John Malkovich in Of Mice and Men
18. Elizabeth Shue in Molly
19. Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister
20. Robin Williams in Jack

The first and most obvious issue I take with this list is the fact that many of these examples are not even ‘special needs’ individuals, rather they are merely eccentric characters; goofballs, underachievers, and those who are just plain socially awkward.  By lumping all of these characters in this article together as ‘special needs’, the writer has clearly reduced the idea of being a special needs person to that of a bumbling, idiotic, low level of intelligence, barely functioning ‘retard’, a term so often used in our culture, offensively to describe and make-fun of individuals such as those on this list.  The idea that a list like this is acceptable as a form of entertainment to be mindlessly glossed over is atrocious.

The second issue I take with this is the fact that they are listed as the “top” characters.  The top of what?  In what category?  For what reason?  Are they the funniest, the stupidest, most ‘retarded’?  What is the gauge by which these characters have been measured?  What exactly are we to ascertain from this list?  The writer, himself never explains his purpose in his five sentences.  He almost leaves us to decipher the meaning of it for ourselves.  If it weren’t for the tags listed at the end of the article, one being: “movies about retarded people“, you might have excused it away as nothing more than a compilation.  This information, however, tells us the sad  truth behind his unfortunate intentions.

This article is offensive.  On behalf of the over one-billion people living with various forms of disabilities across the world, some cognitive, some emotional, some physical, and so forth, I take offense.  I take offense for those who cannot speak up for themselves and act out against any of the deplorable stereotypes that continue to exist in our culture that tell these people they are not ‘normal’, that they are in fact, trivial, novel and something to be made examples of and discriminated against as a form of amusement for the rest of society.

A person who watches these movies, and reads (or makes) lists like these with the intent to laugh at the individuals who actually do have special needs, is someone lacking the most basic of human components; those of empathy and compassion toward the his fellow human beings.  I pity these people, for they are truly missing out on a large portion of the purpose of life, and in reality, they, themselves are the ones with nothing meaningful to contribute to the human condition.  Surely such a shallow existence must be novel and trivial in and of itself.