Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Letting go of fear of financial insecurity

On my desk sit papers from the state employment office. I need to complete a very thorough questionnaire proving that I am not earning additional income and not reporting it.
I have cleaned the kitchen, taken a shower, organized papers, contemplated book topics and titles, read email, checked facebook...all in an attempt to not look at this questionnaire (again...I've read through it, gotten overwhelmed, and put it aside).

I didn't do anything wrong (I have not earned any additional income, and of course since I didn't there was nothing to report), and yet the questions are like pointing fingers and each finger is telling me that I'm wrong, I'm fucking my kid up (with money shit), I'm horrible with money, I don't have anything helpful to share with the world, I'm not employable, I'm a mess, and anything else I can sneak in there to mean I'm just not fucking worth it. And I certainly don't deserve any help from the state. Even though everyone thinks that I get to spend all these blissful moments with K, now that I am "home," this is really what is going through my head most of the day, sadly.

I'm educated, literate, skilled, and resourceful and, in one glance at some state-issued paperwork, I am reduced to scum, in a heartbeat.

So what am I letting go of here?

Good question.

Why am I so worked up? What is this questionnaire symbolizing? I have to go that route, because I'm one of those people that believes I can make something *mean* something...usually this is done in a negative slant first, but I am capable of turning it around to mean something else. So what does it mean?

When I left my secure, reliable, somewhat manageable job I knew the demons would come. I knew that I would hear in my head the protests of leaving a safe job, of leaving something predictable and something I'm capable of doing (proof to the world that I can do something valuable). But man, I did NOT expect the dialogue (more like lecturing, I think) to be so loud!

  • Why have you done?
  • Who do you think you are?
  • You're a horrible writer and even if you are any good, who wants to read about your life?
  • You're destined for a life working in an office, answering phones and doing data entry, so you should give up any other ideas. Oh, and you have no follow-through, so good luck with any and all creative pursuits.
  • There are MILLIONS of other people writing, thinking, making money at stuff you are excited about, so there's no use in trying.
  • You're ruining your family, both biological and chosen.
  • It's your fault that you are broke.
  • You'll never get ahead. Or out of debt.
  • You can't bring another kid into this hellish life (btw, I don't think my life is hellish, but that demon voice inside seems to!)
  • Your friends will leave you soon, since you are a sad-sack and a non-contributing member to society.
  • Your friends want to hang out with someone successful, rich, and generous and you are none of those things!
  • Your family is tired of helping you.
  • You don't follow the rules correctly (this may seem small to some, but as a proud rule-follower, this is one statement that can really knock the wind out of me) and therefore don't deserve anything.
  • You want too much.
  • You want too little.
  • You are asking for impossible miracles.
  • You'll be homeless soon.
  • You are straining your marriage.
That's just a sample, with many variations of those things, said differently, just to make it sound worse.

There's something hanging on inside of me that is very, very afraid, if that's the kind of stuff that comes up for me. I can imagine the grip of the demon, knuckles white, grasping for every single bad thing I've ever thought ONCE in my whole life, to get me to go back to safety and security. Even the rule thing...this paperwork scared me so bad that I lost sleep, went to a job interview offering an unsustainable wage, and considered working weekends (basically eliminating seeing my kid and husband at the same time).

So I know I gotta let that fear of insecurity go...I know that I need to keep trusting in the Spirit/Source/Universe...It's a constant practice, right? I want to just declare to this Safety Demon that I understand its concern...I know it sees really horrible things and wants to keep me/us from those experiences (again)...I know that my safety has been taken away several times in my life and all this little monster is trying to do is prevent further damage.

But here's the point I'm making: Clinging to safety doesn't make me feel secure. Asking and receiving does, though. Giving people a chance to connect to me and give to me makes me feel more secure. Working hard to strengthen my friendships, and offer what I can makes me feel safe. And ultimately, feeling like I can contribute to people/the world, makes me feel safe and valuable, too.

So Security and Safety Demon, here's the deal. I can't convince you that I am valuable. I can't show you a paycheck (just yet) proving that my words and my ideas help other people. I can't for all time, say that we'll be financially taken care of (yet). But let's work together.
 How about you only alert me when I'm in danger of harming myself or others. You can help me write more compelling stories and blogs, you can help me make money through Amazon, coaching, speaking and inspiring others. You can spend time acting as my intuitive bodyguard, speaking up only when I am doing stuff that's really not a good idea (gambling, debting, ignoring paperwork, etc). You can ask me quietly and nicely, if I have considered all my options. You can even prevent me from heart-breaking, soul-numbing, underemployment because that's ALSO not a good idea, security-wise. And moreover, when I get those pesky letters from Unemployment, you can calmly tell me that all I need to do is answer the questions to the best of my ability (that's all I can do, anyway) and then wait for a response. When the worst case scenario happens, then you can help me get out of it, but until then, I don't need you just hanging around causing me grief and creating more fear. I have plenty of that without you. Thank you for you service, but I'd like to put you to better use.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A world where American mamas don't cry...

I read an article posted on FB about African babies not crying (really, NO babies cry in Africa? I find that hard to believe, but I digress). While the personal narrative experience of the author was nice and interesting, culturally, it wasn't a definitive study about how we mess up our kids and how to stop.

What it did was continue to propagate a MamaMyth, that if we were "better" our kids wouldn't cry as much. Nevermind that crying is just a form of early communication from babies who don't have a very wide array of verbal communication early on.

A commenter on the post tangentially mentioned that our culture will pay for putting kids in all day preschool (not the subject of the article). I debated commenting. After all, it's not the point of my friend's post. But I couldn't just let that comment sit there so that other mamas could either silently feel judged or collectively high five each other if they were able and chose to stay home with their kids.

Also, the article spoke about breastfeeding those "quiet" babies in Africa no matter what was happening. Okay, so there is no crying technically because there's a boob in the mouth physically. That makes sense logistically. And then I think about my experience with my baby.

I won't break down every moment where this concept ran through my head (and was used to emotionally flog myself because my kid didn't quiet when offered the breast). But as I started to listen to each cry and how they were different, I realized that I could solve most problems based on what was actually needed, not based on quieting my kid with boob/food. I learned what was an "attention" cry versus a "hungry" cry versus an "over-stimulation" cry. This really helped me learn my kid's world faster. It's not just crying, my son was telling me what he needed. And as a result, I have a really great communication system with him. I'm not saying my method works for everyone (I'm just sharing what I did), but I was trapped in the idea that every cry was a milk/boob-craving cry. And my kid didn't always want to nurse. Just like he wasn't able to be born vaginally and it wasn't my fault, I needed to listen to my reality, not just my idealism. And I needed to listen to myself and my kid.

As a new mom, it was hard to listen to myself. I had "no idea" theoretically, what I was doing. Other more experienced moms knew better, I was convinced. I read the books,  chatted with the experienced moms, and knew the studies. But one thing that no one considered: none of those people were looking at or listening to MY kid! And they weren't ME! So all bets were off, eventually. This was between me and my kid. I had a lot of information and support, but I needed to go through this struggle and pay attention to what was really happening. No amount of doctor recommendations or 30 peppy hippie mamas suggesting x/y/z could replace those moments when I was listening to my kid. And we forget to tell new moms that a lot. We're getting better about telling each other that what matters is what works for us individually, but as a culture, we still judge the crap out of everyone.

In the last few weeks I've hung out with some of my mom friends and I've been listening to not just what we all tell each other, but how and why.

There's a lot of confessing, disclaiming with "TMI, but I want to share..." (TMI=too much information), telling half-stories (to test the water and see if anyone will judge), and more clever mama tactics to make sure no one calls CPS, commits someone to a mental ward, or other damning actions.

It breaks my heart, honestly. My heart actually aches having the awareness and sensing that fear, anxiety, and guilt in other mamas. Because of course I am also doing this. I am also trying to make it look good, while inside or alone my experiences are confusing, isolating, and sometimes scary.

To think that one thing will be the demise of our culture is ignorant. Another friend pointed out that even if babies don't cry in Africa, there is a lot of violence, rape, poverty, submission, dictatorship, etc., so how can we look at the broader picture and not make one thing the definition of a culture? And frankly, putting kids in all day preschool isn't usually a simple choice. Would financial strain with one income be better? What about the sanity of the parents?

When I was done with maternity leave, I was eager to get back to work. Not because I didn't love my little one, but because there was a large part of me that was aching to stretch my brain, my creative desires, etc., again. Not just to have "adult conversation" (but that's valid, too), I wanted to keep offering my gifts...and I couldn't turn magically turn into a full time mom. It's not who I was, despite my lineage of stay at home moms (but now, I wonder if there weren't a few mamas in my line who wanted to do something else that just wasn't done back then). And honestly, motherhood made me cry a lot. For all the reasons one might expect, sometimes I just couldn't do it one more day, one more night. What then?

So while it's a nice story that one Kenyan woman experienced some relief and peace by breastfeeding, there are many other ways for mothers, especially here in the US, where tribal culture is different in many fundamental ways, to get help and support. Whether that means their child gets cared for by others in a preschool setting (which we are doing now expressly so that our kid has  more stability in his life, at least on a topical level), or the moms create a larger network of support in friends, family, and in-home child care givers, or they stay at home (or the papas stay at home), there are many ways to create a happy, healthy, sane family.

But what I can do is to shed light on the truth of my life specifically and hint at the larger group of mamas who struggle with their new role. And let mamas express themselves so that they don't feel alone. That isolating feeling in moms can create more damage than a crying child. Isolation kills people in reality. Moms that feel they have no recourse to a life of struggle often (yes, OFTEN) choose to end their lives. And if I could make the difference, by listening, by encouraging honest expression, by creating a system of support, then I want to focus on that. That's what raises healthy kids. A sense that an entire community is holding them, not just their parents. And we can do that without government advocacy (because we can't wait until that happens), without college education and co-sleeping and breastfeeding until two (or later). Yes, those things are nice and beneficial, if they work for the families, but if they don't, other things work too and families need to know that. 

I'd like to promote a culture where mamas don't cry either...


My favorite baby

My inspiration

My inspiration