F-Bombs at the Bank: Toddlers that Swear

This semester Gabriel’s schedule has been simultaneously amazing and crappy. He only has class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. YAY! But he accompanies the University choir on Tuesday nights so that means he is gone from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm.

 

And I’m alone with the kids. All. Day.

 

On these long days, I typically hunker down in the house, wear dirty yoga pants and spend my day scribbling in coloring books with broken crayons and making sure everyone is fed every three hours. It’s a long and boring day and no one has fun.

 

But this Tuesday I decided to be productive. Maybe getting out of the house would make our day more manageable–even if we’re just going to the DMV and Walmart. (The two most soul-sucking places on earth.)

 

I heroically got dressed AND brushed my teeth! and got everyone in the car. Neither of my children were in pjs (this is a rare occurrence) and we were optimistically swinging through the bank before we began our productive day of errands.

 

I could hear Theo muttering something under his breath as we pulled into the bank parking lot.

 

“What are you saying, buddy?” I asked.

 

“Fucker!” He triumphantly called. I was taken aback, but we’re trying not react to negative behavior. He gets a little power drunk if he knows we don’t want him to do something.

 

“Oh. What does that mean?” I politely questioned.

 

“It means a DRAGON’S HOUSE! FUCKER! Fucker. Fucker.” He yelled as I pulled into the drive through. He continued to alternate between whispering dramatically and screaming “fucker.”  It sounded like two mafia members deciding at gunpoint who’d been stealing from the family.

 

I coughed trying to cover the sound of continuous F-bombs being dropped by my three-year-old.

 

The bank teller gave me a tight-lipped smile.

 

I blame Gabriel.

 

Though he would blame me. Honestly, I’m more inclined toward “shit” and “damnit.” It’s all personal preference.

 

Theo is known to sometimes affectionately refer to our kittens as “fucking cats.” I KNOW that comes for Gabriel because I adore the kittens. Gabriel tolerates their existence for my sake.

 

I have no idea how other parents don’t swear around their children. I’m not even particularly filthy or crass. I certainly never swear at my children. In fact, I’m the absolute worst at sounding even vaguely threatening.

 

If Theo is acting up at the store I alternate between bribing–with prizes, food, screen time, all the mac and cheese in the world–and issuing ambiguous threats in strained whispers like, “If you don’t sit down right now I’m going to…I’m going to…I’m going to be so upset!”

 

I’m basically the worst at sounding in charge.

 

Theo, on the other hand, has a masterful handle on show stopping obscenities. He can wield the F-bomb with sniper-like precision and he knows just how to embarrass his mama at the small town bank where everyone knows your name.

 

In my opinion, everyone knowing your name and your whole life story is a huge negative for this very reason. I loved the anonymity of a busy Chicago El car. If Theo stood up and dropped the F-bomb on the El, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. I won’t see these people again.

 

But in Osakis, Minnesota, when your toddler swears like an incarcerated gang leader, people talk.
Let’s hope the bank teller was feeling generous today (or she’s hard of hearing) and won’t spread the news of my incompetent colorful parenting.

 

When Self Care Doesn’t Work

Gabriel and I spend a lot of time feeling bad about our situation. Not generally disliking our lives–our lives are actually super comfortable and pleasant most of the time.

 

But we can be pretty disheartened and frustrated about some of the major aspects of our life:

  • We have next to no money. I mean seriously–what most people pay for a car, we make in a year. It’s depressing.
  • We aren’t living in a metropolitan area and we are totally city people.
  • We don’t have an HGTV level cute and cool living space. Nor is it very clean or organized.
  • We aren’t pursuing the artistic passions we used to.

 

I honestly could go on, but I’m tired of my own complaining.

 

The other day, I had a strange afternoon with an unexpected flashback. Both kids were asleep at the same time (which is a MIRACLE) so Gabriel and I decided to engage in some consensual adult fun.

 

We’ve talked it through many times and Gabriel knows what is a trigger for me during sex. We’ve identified words, movements, and certain ways of touching that are off limits.

 

But the other day, Gabriel touched my neck in a certain way and BAM. My stomach flipped and all of a sudden I was on my back in a Chicago gangway with a stranger’s brutal body pressing me down–suffocating me.

 

I stopped Gabriel but didn’t communicate what had happened. As the day moved on I felt myself retreating inward. I felt small and jumpy. I felt like a lost child. Or a mouse.

 

I recognized that I needed to take care of myself, so I decided instead of trying to get things done or being productive I was going to engage in some serious self care.

 

Once the kids were asleep, I popped the cork on a bottle of wine and turned on My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Six episodes and three and a half glasses of wine later, I decided it was time to turn in for the night.

 

I closed my laptop and let myself adjust to the dark and quiet. I still felt small. I didn’t feel any better after my go-to self care. What happened?

 

My old self care routine wasn’t what I needed anymore. I spent years zoning out with TV–numbing and indulging with wine. And that’s what I needed at the time.

 

Gabriel and I spent years in survival mode. After I was raped, we holed up together, watched HOURS of TV and watched my baby bump slowly grow. Then I became a mom. Theo and I snuggled, cuddled and I watched HOURS of TV while I nursed him.

 

Cleaning was not a priority. Making money was not a priority. Eating healthy and exercising were not a priority.

 

Keeping everyone fed and not having flashbacks or anxiety attacks was the priority.

 

But I’ve changed. I no longer need to focus solely on survival. Now I can aim for growth.

 

On a walk yesterday, Gabriel and I were discussing our life together and I became mindful of how well we’ve actually done. After the trauma of being raped and the surprise of an unplanned pregnancy, marriage, and three big moves–we’ve kept our shit together pretty well.

 

We didn’t:

  • Become drug addicts or alcoholics
  • Get divorced
  • Kill each other, ourselves–or anyone for that matter

 

We:

  • Got degrees (Gabriel is almost done)
  • Made another wonderful child
  • Stayed relatively healthy
  • Quit smoking
  • Kept our family warm, fed, clothed, and decently clean

 

I’m going to call these past four years a success–even if it feels a lot like our lives stalled, sidestepped, and misfired.

 

I have to struggle not to think of my current life as a failure just because it doesn’t match the vision I had for myself when I was 20. I sometimes feel stagnant or ruined by life’s twists and brutal turns, but seeing my self care routine fail reminded me that I’m not finished.

 

I’m still changing. My life and my mind don’t look like they did four years ago. And even though Gabriel and I wish we were further on in our careers and it would be great to have more money in the bank, we have not failed at life. There’s still time.

 

Next time I’m feeling triggered or small or used, I’m going to try some yoga and a glass of water. Or maybe I’ll write or go for a walk. Maybe I’ll play some loud music and cook a nice dinner. I’m not sure. Old me did what she had to do. Good for her.

 

I’m going to stop feeling ashamed for surviving, and I’m going to start embracing the changes happening right now.

 

Bittersweet and strange. Finding you can change.

 

Learning you were wrong…wait– that’s Beauty and the Beast.

 

But It is a strange thing to suddenly notice that you’ve changed. I don’t need what I used to. I’m ready to start caring for myself as I am now– not how I used to be.

Crymageddon: ugly present parenting

Today soundly kicked my butt.

 

Ada was awake from 4 am to 6 am. Crying. Trying to sleep. Arching her back. Closing her eyes. It was maddening. Theo woke up at 6:30 having pooped in his bed. Gabriel put him in the bath, which woke up Ada. And because it’s Tuesday, Gabriel had to head off for school at 7 am. I had just gotten Ada back to sleep so Theo watched an hour of cartoons on my phone while Ada and I dozed next to him.

 

GREAT start to the day.

 

I guzzled coffee, held Ada, fed Theo, shoved three muffins in my own face while NPR droned on in the background about double executions and shootings. Theo painted. Ada nursed. Theo needed a bath. Ada nursed. I scrolled Instagram.

 

It was too cold, grey and rainy to go outside. I didn’t want to drive into town because I always end up spending money. Budgets cramp my style.

 

I read five books to Theo. I forced half a jar of baby food into Ada’s mouth and she spit half of that on my face. Theo was hungry. I made chicken and cut up peppers for lunch. I threw lettuce in a bowl and called it a salad to make up for the muffins.

 

I ate three more muffins.

 

Theo painted more. He needed another bath.

 

This day might seem normal and fine. There was a lot of bathing and eating and that isn’t so strange. But something was off. I was distracted. My mind was blurry (no sleep) and I had NO patience. Theo and I kept snapping at each other. We were cooped up, bored, annoyed, tired. Restless.

 

I kept mindlessly and automatically opening Instagram and scrolling past all of the beautiful, young, sunny, kidless, flat-stomached and bright-eyed lives that looked nothing like mine. I felt jealous, sad and a little resentful. It wasn’t pretty.

 

Theo was playing in his third bath of the day while I nursed Ada on our bed. I heard him get out of the bath and I could see him through the cracked door start running around the bathroom.

 

“Theo! Get back in the water! You’re going to fall!” I shouted at him.

 

“NO!” He shouted back, kept giggling and running around.

 

“Theo! Get back–” Ugh. I sighed and went back to scrolling Instagram. I’ll deal with the mess later. He’s happy. Three minutes later: BAM. I hear the thick, dull thud of his little skull hitting the ground and the sickening pause before the scream– it’s a bad one.

 

In seconds I was in the bathroom holding his wet flailing body as he screamed. I did a quick and silent inventory: No blood. No goose egg. Just a headache. As I rocked him, my eyes took in the mess. Water was EVERYWHERE. The floors were soaked. The bath tub was brimming with water. I had checked out for too long and things had gotten out of hand.

 

With one hand I started to wipe up the water with a towel.

 

“NO,” screamed Theo, “I want the water on the floor! I want it wet!”

 

“But sweetie, that’s how you fell and– “

 

“NO!” He swung back his arm and hit me. My jaw dropped. “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!” He screamed over and over again–hitting and kicking me. I set him away from me.

 

“Theo– Stop– Honey– I know you hurt yourself– OW. THEO STOP.” I tried to hold his arms down but I would hurt him if I forced it. Tears and snot rolled down his face and onto his chest. My mind raced. Do I put him in time out? He’s hurt! I’m the one who started cleaning while I was comforting him. But this mess! He knows he shouldn’t get water on the floor! But I let him. He needed attention. It’s my fault.

 

Tears started to fill my eyes. I plopped heavily down onto the wet floor and cried. Theo kept screaming. I kept crying. Our eyes locked. I saw every soggy golden brown curl on his head. The red cat scratch across his nose and right cheek. His long black lashes stuck together in wet points. His blue eyes, brighter than my own, begged for help while his thrashing body pushed me away.

 

I waited. Cried. And waited. Slowly his screams subsided to wails. His wails melted to sobs. His sobs dissipated into sniffly hiccups.

 

“Mommy, wipe my tears,” he said in a high-pitched voice, the way he always does when he’s done crying. I wiped his tears and he crawled into my lap.

 

“Will you wipe my tears, baby?” I asked as fresh heavy tears fell. He reached his meaty little palms up and rub the tears into my cheeks.

 

“You happy, mommy?” Theo asked. Anyone who knows my son knows he is constantly asking people if they’re happy. He is always concerned about the wellbeing of others.

 

I sob/laughed. “You know I’m happy if you’re happy.”  He hugged me and replied, “I’m happy, Mommy.” We crawled into my bed where Ada was patiently waiting out crymageddon and cuddled under the covers. I scratched his back. He scratched mine. We both scratched Ada’s tummy and she beamed.

 

Afterward, we went downstairs and watched Fixer Upper while I made spiralized zucchini, mushrooms and carrots for dinner.

 

Today was not a good day. I was distracted, bored, annoyed and all-around a less-than-delightful mom. I feel guilty–more like shameful–on days like today. But there was one moment when I was fully present to my son. I still feel like I made every wrong parenting decision up until that moment. But in one moment I was simply with him. In the midst of his emotions, we sat together. It was an ugly moment. No parenting awards were won. My son’s winning personality did not charm the socks off anyone. But it was real.
I sincerely hope I never again have a parenting day like today, but I know I will. I just hope I can tune in more to the real present moments with my kids. Those are the ones that matter; the only place of true connection and life. Even if that connection is over deep sadness, anger, and shame. At least we were in it together.

 

 

The Real Now: Sweat, Milk, Tears, Baby Snot

 

For weeks, Gabriel and I have been trying to sleep train Ada. The first six months of her life she slept exclusively on people—mostly attached to the breast. It worked. I didn’t have a ton of responsibilities outside of caring for my kiddos and she was so calm and quiet that it wasn’t a huge imposition. Until it was.

 

Suddenly, the restriction of my movement and freedom became stressful. Ada started waking up every time there was a loud noise or I moved too much. Clearly, she needed to be sleeping in a still, quiet place. I needed some alone time.

 

When Theo was three months old we moved him to his crib and did Ferber’s method of crying-it-out (for those who aren’t thigh deep in parenting literature, that means we set timers when he cried in his bed and let him cry for increasingly longer periods of time.) By the third or fourth night, he was going to sleep without a peep.

 

Ada has put up a little more of a fight. And by a little, I mean she still refuses to go to bed without a fight. Every night we do our bedtime routine of a warm bath with lavender soap, a song, some breastfeeding and then bed. And then crying. Behind her nursery door, Gabriel and I engage in a silent whisper fight about what to do. I cry. He gets frustrated. I freak out. He gets frustrated.

 

It’s generally not going well.

 

Last week Theo got a super bad head cold. Three days ago, Ada got it. And any parent knows that when your kid is sick, all bets are off. We obviously couldn’t let a sick snuffly, fevery baby wail.

 

The first night of her illness, I ended up in our bed with her at 9:30 pm side nursing her to sleep. I was frustrated and flustered after hours of attempting to get her to sleep in her own crib without crying-it-out. At first, I pulled out my phone and began mindlessly scrolling Instagram behind her while she drifted off to sleep. While fuming in my head about how crappy it was that I wasn’t going to be able to go downstairs and chip away at my to-do list, one of her sweaty little hands reached up and came to rest on my cheek.

 

It startled me and my eyes burned and blurred as they refocused away from my bright iPhone screen. Her raspy, mouth breathing undulated through the warm, dark room and I noticed for the first time the patter of rain on the window. Her small upturned nose, silhouetted by the streetlamp glow outside our window, took my breath away.

 

I was missing it. Her unconscious, transcendentally precious little hand drew me out of my broken expectations and into the present moment. This was not the vision I had for my evening. But this was my evening: wrapped in comforters, cuddling my sick daughter through her first cold as the Minnesota Spring rain tapped on my window.

 

For the past three days, Ada has hardly left my arms. Even as I write this she is draped across my lap stubbornly suckling my breast as she wheezes through her stuffy nose. She is endlessly precious. And unique.

 

The biggest challenge of my life is to accept and embrace my current reality. As a PTSD and rape survivor, I’m plagued by the past. As a creative dreamer, I’m nearly always planning or fantasizing about the future. The present is a pesky space that is constantly tugging on my sleeve attempting to pull my attention to the now. When I sigh and concede to the present, I’m shocked by how precious my life really is.

 

My son’s laugh. My husband’s music. My daughter’s touch. They all invite me into my real and present life. Inviting me to experience and breathe in the good, the hard, the boring, the ugly, the beautiful—the real now.

 

I don’t know how we’ll get Ada to sleep on her own. But I’m letting go of the notion that just because it worked for Theo doesn’t mean it’s going to work for her. Her present needs are different than what he needed. And I’m trying to embrace the difficulty and the sweetness of our time together–right now (even if it means we both get a little less sleep than we’d like.)

 

I wrote this poem yesterday while Theo napped in his room and Ada napped in my arms. I used to write poetry every day. I have notebooks full of poems and half poems. My poetry professor offered to put together a selection of my poems to publish.

 

After I was raped I stopped writing poetry. I built steel doors around the deep emotional part of my heart that was accessed by poetry. For years, I’ve been scared to write poetry because I knew dark feelings would come up. I would have to face painful realizations about myself. I felt like the raw reality of those feelings would overwhelm me.

 

I’ve cracked the vault of those real feelings in an attempt to live in the real now. I survived the first poem.

 



 

Her First Cold

 

Orange and purple

Dapple rain, stream

Down– streetlamp

Window paint

 

Hot breath rumbles

Low, through

Crackly cherry nose.

Peach mouth rounded

Lulling tender sighs.

 

16 pounds of squishy

Flesh, curls limp

And fresh.

Damp and hot. A blanket of

Sweat, milk, tears,

Baby snot.

 

Dark silhouette,

Raspy chest.

Tiny fingers grasping–

Holding mine.

 

Body trusting, weighing heavy.

Midnight nursing fever time.

 

 

Photos by my awesome sister-in-law Bailey!

Another New Normal: My Postpartum Body

After I had Theo I was sick—really sick. I was in the hospital with an infection for thirteen days. My fevers kept spiking. I was delirious, shivering, sweating, breastfeeding, and being pumped full of drugs. But still, the infection raged. Nothing was working.

 

I was on “rotation” which means I didn’t have a single doctor but was, instead, subjected to the changing shifts of ambitious green residents’ theories and ideas. There was one hardass resident who kept saying that exploratory surgery was necessary. That meant I couldn’t eat or drink water. Twelve hours later the shift would change. A new group of residents. This group doesn’t favor surgery. I can eat again. Yay! Shift change. We decide on surgery and I’m cut off from food and water.

 

They finally called in the Infectious Disease specialist, Dr. Huh. He was a calm, bright-eyed, short man with the coldest, cleanest touch. He came in and saved the day. I found out later that my family was having terrified, hushed conversations behind closed doors about me dying. I realized things were bad when family members started flying in from distant states…as if to say goodbye. Yikes.

 

Dr. Huh finally found the right cocktail of antibiotics that worked and I was sent home with a PICC line to self-administer drugs for a few weeks.

 

It was a rough way to start off motherhood. BUT…

 

I lost a ton of weight. I know that’s shallow and dumb and unimportant and I would never wish illness on anyone (or myself!) just to lose weight…but it was a surprising benefit. Three or four months after having Theo and my body looked pretty close to pre-baby standards. All of my old clothes fit. I felt normal and good.

 

With my second baby, Ada, things have been different. My C-section with her went smoothly. I recovered right on schedule. Six weeks after her birth when I was cleared to start working out, I felt like a giant squishy mama panda with zero coordination and rolls and stretch marks for days. I certainly didn’t feel normal or good.

 

I felt healthy! But not normal.

 

Ada is six months old now and I’m hovering about 8 pounds away from the weight I was when I got pregnant with her. I realize that this is pretty close for most women. And I’m pretty happy with how things are looking and working these days. But I’m still struggling with that “feeling normal” idea. I felt “normal” after Theo. I felt like I did before having a baby.

 

After having Ada, my body changed. Maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe it’s the fact that my body has miraculously created TWO WHOLE HUMANS. Why would I expect it–or even desire it–to feel like it hasn’t had babies? I’m 24. I’ve made two little precious humans. I’ve had two huge abdominal surgeries and recovered from crazy infections.

 

What does normal feel like now?

 

It can’t be a number on the scale because I don’t think those last 8 lbs are really going to change my entire bodily experience. My body is the vehicle through which I experience the world. It’s not the entirety of who I am. I am a sharp brain, an eternal spirit and a unique compilation of memories and experiences. But my body houses it all.

 

Women often talk about how becoming a mother changes their bodies. After I had Theo, I didn’t really relate to that. I certainly had respect for the awe-inspiring, life-creating work my body had done, but I essentially felt the same. After I had Ada, things were different. It feels like I went on vacation and returned to find the walls painted a slightly lighter shade of grey and all the furniture a little out of place. It’s still home… but someone changed it.

 

I’m still striving to move my body at least once a day and to eat well and drink more water than coffee and wine (such a delicate balance). But I’m not sure watching the numbers on the scale tick toward a familiar weight is going to cut it. Fitting into my old clothes will be nice (who can afford a whole new wardrobe?) but I need to get to know this new body.

 

For months, I’ve been trying to push and squeeze myself into a space that didn’t quite fit. No matter what literal size of my hips or stomach, my architecture has changed. I’m a mama of two now. My house has changed. I’m having a hard time embracing the change. I’ve basically been tiptoeing around my new home with my eyes closed, bumping into the furniture just hoping it will all go back to normal. Surprisingly, that strategy isn’t working. So I have decided to open my eyes. I need to get to know this new space so I can stop feeling off–not normal. What’s normal!? This is another new normal for me. My body, right now–stretch marks, curves, rolls, every pound–is normal. And beautiful.

 

 

Off My Meds

After I had Ada, things started to change. And not just in the obvious everyday changes to daily life and family dynamic. Of course, going from one kid to two is a big shift. But things began to change in my mind. I found myself crying more. Wringing my hands. Stressing out about small, big, medium, real, and imaginary issues. At first, I thought–hormones. That’s normal.

Then one month passed. And two. And three. Five months went by and my brain felt…untethered. My mind felt loose and erratic. My mind felt like a place I had to be afraid of, instead of a safe place for my thoughts to reside. I felt like I did before I began taking my crazy/happy pills two years ago.

Maybe it was a hormonal change after having a baby or maybe it was a certain alignment of the stars (I’m not a doctor, obviously), but my pills stopped working. I kept taking them even though I knew something was off because I was afraid of who I would be without them.

One month ago, I changed my mind. Without telling Gabriel (maybe a choice rooted in my crazy) I stopped taking my pills. I expected the rug to be pulled out from under me. I imagined melting into a giant pile of fried nerves, tears, and accusations. But that didn’t happen. I was just as anxious as I had been for the past five months, but I noticed it differently. It was as if taking my medication had become my only form of mental self-care–a mental crutch or excuse. When my meds stopped working, I realized that I had stopped taking an active role in the health of my mind. That’s what the pills were for! Right?

When I stopped taking the meds, I was forced to mentally take a step back and observe when I felt my stress levels rise and my mind begin to spiral. Did the anxiety stop? Yes and no. I could see my stress more clearly. I could see the twisted paths my brain had worn in my tired emotional life. I noticed the patterns of blame, insecurity, and fear that created the backdrop of every panic attack. And I began taking an active role in caring for my mind.

Before I first went on medication, I tried exercising, eating well, sleeping a ton and counseling. And I still couldn’t outrun the thick fog of my anxiety. But something has changed in me, and now my mind and I have a different relationship. For some unsearchable reason, the Anxiety Monster in my mind has moved out – or maybe he’s just on holiday.

I’ve been off my meds for one month. Sometimes I still get anxious, but I’m not sure I would call it anxiety. I’ve been caring for myself more fastidiously and effectively. I used to call a glass of wine and a bag of chips self-care (and sometimes they still are). Now, I call thirty minutes on my yoga mat, taking a shower or drinking a glass of water and breathing deeply–self-care. Am I going to stay off pills forever? Who knows! Do I think people should just stop taking their meds without talking to their doctor? HECK NO. But for me and my craycray brain, it’s worked out so far.

I’m enjoying my new relationship with my mind. I used to be fearful of the wild control my thoughts had over me. I think PTSD survivors might understand that fear. But now I know that even without medication, my mind won’t destroy me. It doesn’t control me. I can be friends with it. I can care for it and also tell it to pipe down when it’s getting a little out of control. Going off my meds has helped me to become reacquainted with my silly, crazy, lovely mind.

Who knows, maybe in a month I’ll be asking my doctor about Prozac. I hear that shit is legit.

But for now, my crazy and I are okay just riding out the days with a mutually respectful and dubious trust in one another.

PTSD after the Election. Triggered by Trump. Why this election might be hard for a Rape Survivor.

Gabriel and I live in rural Minnesota with our two kids–farm country. We are not surprisingly surrounded by many Trump supporters. We have both been Hillary Rodham Clinton fans for years and have excitedly followed her campaign. I made small donations to her cause a few times after a glass of wine and an extra patriotic West Wing episode, but other than that, I didn’t do much else. But Gabriel spent the last several months engaging in difficult and quite honestly, uncomfortable conversations with people who planned to support Trump. He would bring it up at the dinner table. I would grit my teeth and awkwardly attempt to change the subject. I would roll my eyes when he asked me to edit a thoughtful and well researched comment he spent fifteen minutes crafting in order to respond to an offensive article posted on FaceBook. It drove me nuts.

“You’re just going to upset people!”

“That’s not going to change anyone’s mind!”

“This is a waste of time, babe.”

I was a total nay-sayer. I discouraged his passionate political outbursts and they sometimes out-right annoyed me.

Finally, it was the morning of November 8th, and I was honestly glad all the the election talk was about to be over. Gabriel and I excitedly discussed our country’s bright future over our morning coffees. “How empowering it will be to have a ‘Madame President’!” I tearfully told Theo that Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to be our first female President. He cheered, “Yay! Hillary Clinton!” like a good democrat’s son and contentedly went back to eating his yogurt. Gabriel went early to cast his vote (I had sent in an absentee ballot for Ohio) and we nervously spent the day wondering when exit polls would start to become significant.

That evening I poured some wine, turned on The Crown and continued my embroidery as if it were any other night. Gabriel couldn’t tear his eyes away from his computer–checking exit polls, reading predictions. We were excited but thought the outcome was obvious. Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to become our President.

“Oh my gosh, babe. Turn that off. We need to start watching the news.” The edge in Gabriel’s voice made me start.

“What!? What is it?”

“She’s not winning.” Gabriel swallowed and switched The Crown to CNN Live Election Results. We watched in horror as one state after another turned red. Tears slid unchecked down my cheeks as the flabbergasted newscasters reported on her continuingly narrowing odds of winning.

We turned the computer off around midnight and went to bed. Defeated, deflated, disgusted.

I ignorantly assumed all of the Trump support I heard flying around on social media was fringe. I thought surely it was only a few rogue Republicans with neo-natzi tattoos and Confederate flags in their truck windows that supported Trump. I was ignorant and apathetic. I misjudged them. I mean, their own party leaders had denounced Trump! But I was wrong.

Theo woke up the morning of November 9th at four am. He was sad and grumpy. So were we. None of us could go back to sleep. Gabriel went to check the election results with a small hope that maybe something crazy had happened in the last four hours and Hillary really would be the 45th President. I snuggled our babies in bed. I called down the stairs, “Was he really elected?”

There was a long pause. “Yes.”

More tears fell and I hugged my kids close, grateful they were too young to understand what this meant. America had elected a President that called Mexicans rapists, judged women by their boob size, mocked people with disabilities, supported stop-and-frisk and admitted to sexual assault. This was the man we chose to represent our interests. But he doesn’t represent my interests. The morning of November 9th–I felt scared. My President grabbed women by the pussy whenever he felt like it because he was a “star.” Under his example and leadership, my daughter and I weren’t respected. We weren’t safe.

I continued to cry off and on that day while listening to NPR discuss the results of the election. Theo asked to play outside and I found myself afraid to go into the yard. I felt like I used to feel two years ago when I was newly a rape survivor and PTSD made leaving my own bed scary. I had flashbacks to the rape, and I felt weak.

The man who raped me used the word “pussy” several times in the attack, making that word a particularly potent trigger for me. News outlets played the tape of our President Elect using that word over and over again. I felt disempowered and small. I was as shocked by this sudden return of PTSD as I was by the election results. The election of Donald Trump was just another reminder that our culture doesn’t prioritize the safety of women and other marginalized communities.

Ever since the election I have felt myself slide back into old habits and feelings of insecurity and hypervigilance. At first, I felt silly and dramatic for “back-sliding” in my healing process as a rape survivor, but I now realize that my feelings of fear are justified. I don’t know what the presidency of Donald Trump will bring, but I know his campaign bred hate, intolerance and fear. It is fair to assume that his time in office will only usher in more hate, intolerance and fear. So if you’re a rape survivor, a minority, a refugee, disabled, a member of the LGBTQ community or basically not a white male cisgendered person–it’s okay to be scared. Don’t feel silly or dumb if you’re suddenly sleeping with the lights on again. Me too. If you’re feeling sad or angry or scared, it’s okay. Me too. If you feel like backing away from the mean world and hiding in a corner under a thick blanket with hot chocolate and a fantasy novel–don’t worry. Me too.

I now regret all of the discouraging words I spoke to Gabriel as he voiced his opinions loudly in opposition of Trump. I regret shying away from political conversations in order to avoid confrontation. I played my part in the election of this harmful man by doing nothing. But the world doesn’t end here. I remember feeling like the world ended when I was raped. But it didn’t. There was work to be done, and healing to fight for. Now there is work to be done and healing to fight for as a nation. But if you feel sad and scared, my friends, don’t feel alone. I’m with you.

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July 8. Again.

July 8, 2016

I woke to a soft gray rumble. The comfort of rhythmic rain on the window like a mother patting her child’s back–quietly hushing, shushing and rocking.

Thunderstorms comfort me. They feel ancient or outside of time–great gray clouds unaffected by our progress, innovation and strife. Rain, unhindered by our trivial and arbitrary borders, will fall wherever it chooses–soaking, feeding, softening without judgement. And lightening is the most awe-inspiring magic that penetrates my controlled 21st century life. Surprise. Power. Fear. Science explains this phenomenon but that doesn’t diminish the wonder of blue, gold and white streaks of energy slicing across the sky, burning into my retinas.

A morning thunderstorm reminds me that I’m safe in my powerlessness. Safe in my eternity. I can’t explain the connection but it’s palpable in my heart.

The dusky light softened the edge of Gabriel’s broad shoulder as he rested next to me. The haze deepened the air–slowing down morning rustles as we moved to meet the day.

Theo sprawled across my belly and softly rubbed his hand back and forth over the rounded circumference of my growing baby bump. The weight of his little body wasn’t comfortable, but his small meaty hands were warm and tender.

Mothering makes me feel connected to other times and places. The connection between mothers and their progeny sustain the scaffolding of human history. I’m not the first woman to find comfort and peace in the natural love of a toddler’s gentle stroke.

I was just as much born for this child as he was born for me.

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The eighth of July is the anniversary of the day I was brutally assaulted–beaten, raped and nearly killed. The eighth of July is a wound that reminds me that normal days full of work, chores, meal making, hand holding and general routine can turn into a nightmare. As soon as July first ticks by on my calendar an uneasiness begins to creep into my soul. How do I know that today is safe? How do I know I won’t be devastated, ravaged raw and used today?  How do I continue through life if it is possible to be taken and broken by those who are stronger than me? Like the storms: Surprise. Power. Fear. Always a possibility.

As the date approached this year my anxiety increased. A few days before the eighth I was in the shower when panic, fear and anger gripped me. I began roughly scrubbing my face and then I started tearing at my lashes. I pulled out nearly all of my eyelashes. I was stunned. My eyes burned. Naked and raw.

This year on July 8, 2016, everyone in my family went to great lengths to make me feel loved and safe. But the first moment I found myself alone, my cheeks were suddenly wet with tears I didn’t know were waiting to fall. I sat on the end of my bed and allowed the sobs to reverberate through my body, shaking me from head to toe. A few minutes later Gabriel slipped into the room and sat down next to me, allowing me to soak his shoulder without saying a word.

“I’m so glad I didn’t die,” I whispered through my tears. A soft groan-like sigh escaped his chest as he rocked me.

“Me too. Me too,” he whispered back.

As my sobs ebbed we remained together clutching each other, attempting to protect one another.

“This is also the day we learned about our boy.” I turned to look up into my husband’s face–his eyes crinkled in remembrance.

The eighth of July will always be a painful and jarring day. But as much as it’s an anniversary of death, it’s also the birthday of my new place in the world–my new place as a mother. On July 8, 2013, I joined the leagues of women who have endured rape and abuse, but I also joined the folds of motherhood. Not a day has gone by since July 8, 2013 that I haven’t thought about being raped. But not a day has gone by that I haven’t also thought about my precious son.

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TTC and Other Fun Acronyms

Gabriel and I have been trying to have another baby since December. I know that’s not long, but it’s already an all consuming adventure. When I talked to friends and family about our choice to go for baby #2, eyebrows were raised as people slowly nodded their heads. Some were bold enough to state, “But you’re so young!” Well. To that I say, “I am already a mother. We are already parents and that cannot be changed. I am 23 years young and I want another baby.”

I got an IUD last July and almost immediately started to ache for a second child. Go figure. Gabriel and I had no long term plan or vision for how our family would look (I think that much is clear). We thought maybe someday we would want another child, but we were also comfortable with the idea of just having Theo. He’s our little light and in some ways I can’t imagine having another child.

But I began thinking about how formative and wonderful my three older sisters have been in my life. When I was raped all three of my sisters either jumped on a plane or jumped in their car and met me at my parents’ house in Maryland. They were all there to hold me, cry with me, pray with me and carry me when I needed support. And all three of them were by my side as I labored long and hard with Theo. When I was laying on my bed attempting to push little Theodore into the world, one sister was holding my left leg, Gabriel held the right and the other two were between my legs in the thick of the action—cheering me on. They dealt with my shenanigans through my childhood, my moody apathy through adolescence and now they are my best friends and biggest supporters in adulthood. My mom and my three sisters and I have a massive on-going group text where we update each other throughout our days about our lives. We talk about our children, our spiritual lives, our bodily functions and our relationships. We carry one another through the ups and downs of being women.

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I want to give the gift of a sibling to my little joy. My firstborn.

He already seems like an older sibling to me. We live with my sister Becca, and she has a daughter, Dottie, who is six months younger than Theo. Theo calls Dottie “Dobby” which I think is the most wonderful nickname a child could ever have. Those two little babies greet each other every morning with shrieks, smiles, hugs and kisses. They fight, push and scream at each other and then turn around and tickle each other in fits of laughter. It is glorious to behold how much they love one another.

I know having two babies won’t be easy. But the timing is right. Someone once told me, “If you wait until it’s the perfect, most convenient time to have a child, then you’ll wait your whole life.” In some ways this can be a dangerous sentiment. It’s definitely best to be in control of your family planning situation and make your own decisions about when you want a child. But honestly, our little Theo surprise was the best thing possible. Was it convenient? Heck no! Children are never convenient (except at parties full of people you don’t know…then you can just chill with your baby and it’s totally acceptable not to talk to anyone). But I’m a mom—whether I feel like it or not—and I honestly don’t often “feel” like a mom. But my son is getting older by the minute. I want him to have someone to call when I’m old and start saying funny things and a decision needs to be made about putting mom in a home. I don’t want him to carry that burden alone.

It’s a scary and vulnerable thing to start trying for another baby. For one thing, there are all of these crazy acronyms online that make it impossible to read anything about conceiving a child without an answer key to consult. Here are some of my favorites:

TTC: (Trying To Conceive) Simple. Utilitarian. I like it.

AF: (Aunt Flow) Yep. That is in reference to every woman’s monthly flowering—their menstrual cycle. Some genius went ahead and decided that Aunt Flow was the absolute most accurate and universal identifier for a woman’s period. I’d like to ask for their formal resignation.

BFN: (Big Fat Negative) Okay, this just seems a little rude for a bunch of women trying desperately to conceive a baby to be forced into identifying their negative pregnancy test as a BIG FAT NEGATIVE online. Not the most sensitive acronym around.

BD and DTD: (Baby Dance and Do the Deed) I like these two because they acknowledge a very important part of the process: SEX. Reading all the literature about basal body temperatures, ovulation dates and EWCF (Egg White Cervical Fluid…yep); it’s easy to forget that it takes two to tango. And sex when you’re TTC is different than regular ol’ IUD sex. It’s giggly, exciting and sometimes romantic. You’re trying to create a life here, not just get it on. And at other times, it’s awkward. “Quick honey, my cervical fluid seems to be the right consistency! Let’s have intercourse!” isn’t the flyest of dirty talk, but it’ll get the job done.

Anyway, Gabriel and I are excited to find ourselves tripping awkwardly into this world of intentionally making a baby. It was so easy and accidental the first time, I’m just hoping and praying our desire for a baby doesn’t somehow shrink up my eggs or confuse his little swimmers. Okay, I need to do a little bit more reading about how this all works, but in the meantime, I’m anxiously awaiting my BFP (Big Fat Positive)!

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Agent Myrin

I’ve shared before that the walk from my car to OSU campus is a pretty anxiety producing time for me. In reality, just being in a public place full of strangers who haven’t earned my trust is a pretty anxiety producing time. For months after I was raped I didn’t go in public places alone. Heck, I hardly moved about my own house alone! The mall was my worst nightmare. Hundreds of strangers milling about without any discernible purpose or direction. They were all a threat to me. Everyone’s face seemed to be full of hate and violence. My stranger anxiety has quelled considerably and I can now read facial expressions and body language to get a more accurate picture of potential danger. But sifting through strangers to assess potential danger is still a big part of my daily life.  

Strangely, ever since being raped I’ve also gotten into crime shows. Sometimes this surprises people because they know I’ve become a big scaredy cat so they wonder why I would want to watch scary shows about murderers and rapists. A lot of rape survivors become adrenaline junkies for a while after their assault. I knew a girl who would go to bars just to be hit on by drunk scary slobs because it gave her a rush to push them away and succeed this time. Another woman I knew took up skydiving and got several tattoos. They could control the danger to a certain extent. It made them feel brave and alive instead of the paralyzed with fear.

I get my rush by cuddling on my couch with tea, an adult coloring book and a show about serial killers. I know the violence. I get the hate. Seeing other people talk about it, experience trauma and solve terrible crimes makes me feel more normal. I sympathize with the screaming girl and I long to be the badass detective that wields the gun and bravely enters the dark creepy warehouse alone.

This weird new crime obsession has leaked into other areas of my life.

It started slowly and organically. As I walked down the car lined sidewalk, I used the windows on the cars to keep an eye on the man walking behind me. I adjusted my body language and pace to keep a good distance between us—the James Bond soundtrack played in my head.

“I’m basically a spy,” I thought to myself.

Agent Myrin was born.

Agent Myrin is an undercover agent that has been in the field for two years. She has infiltrated an international white collar gang that is allegedly funneling funds and arms to several lower level gangs that run human trafficking rings. She is fluent in French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Italian. Her Mandarin is conversational. She knows countless ways to kill a man, but she prefers to capture them and get information. She’s a believer in second chances. Her cover may have been blown by a sleezy, brown-nosing messenger boy who suspects she’s not as committed to the gang as he is. She is on high alert. Assassins could be anywhere.

This is the narrative I play in my head as I walk from my car to OSU. It’s perfect. I have to act cool and normal (not like a paranoid hyper vigilant crazy PTSD lady), but I also have to keep my eyes open. I play little scenarios in my head involving crazy hypotheticals and stunning punch-kick combinations.

If that guy in the blue hat lunged across the street toward me I would run up the driveway to my left, jump the fence, run through the school yard and into the elementary school. He would follow close behind. He would grab an eight year old boy with glasses and hold a gun to his head. I would put down my weapon and exchange my life for the kid’s. With a quick headbutt and palm to the nose I would disarm blue-hat-guy and turn his gun on him. I would then interrogate him to see who he worked for.

To be clear, I do not carry a gun with me. I don’t even own a gun. It’s just a comforting fantasy to believe that I could handle myself against any bad guy who crossed my path.

I studied Tae Kwon Do as a kid and I’ve taken countless self defense classes in my life. When I decided to go to college in Chicago my dad made me take an intensive self-defense class run by the Columbus Police. A cop wore a bunch of pads, fake attacked me and I had to fight him off with all the moves I had learned. I hate to say it, but none of those skills came in handy when I was really attacked. I don’t know the research about success rates for those kinds of classes, but from my experience they aren’t truly helpful. If an action isn’t ingrained in your everyday life it will not be a reflex when you’re attacked. The only reflex I trust is my scream (which proved to be extremely loud when I was attacked) and the instinct to simply hit and push the person away.

I carry a sharp, plastic cat shaped object that I attached to my keys. I wear it on my hand every time I’m out in public. It isn’t a real weapon, but it’s akin to wearing brass knuckles all the time. I trust that if someone jumped me I would instinctively hit them with that fist and at least draw some blood. If some asshole touches me again I want some of his blood on my hands. DNA testing should be a breeze. Though it wasn’t an issue getting his DNA the first time without any of his blood on me.

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Sometimes I realize how silly it is to pretend to be a CIA or FBI agent. In fact, it probably makes me certifiable. But it brings some levity to my fearful walks. It makes me feel strong and capable. And why not occupy my thoughts with a fun fantasy? What else would I think about? Groceries, school, sex, food, money? At least in the imaginary world of Agent Myrin I’m kicking butt, taking names and catching bad guys.

 

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