So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

31 December, 2009

Offline Memory

I store my memory outside my head.

I don't know how to explain this to people, to people with undamaged memories. The only people who have understood me have had more overtly abusive relationships with one or another of their parents than I did, but they understand.

They understand growing up in 'that didn't happen', a world where any given event might disappear into an oubliette of denial and revisionist history. Where there is this constant meshwork of things never said, things said and forgotten, things said and denied a day later, where a child could not begin to navigate, caught between child's memories and the need to have faith in a caregiver.

(I think of a beloved friend's little icon, a scan of words written by a parent who never said them, a proof of something ambiguous and complicated and now, just ... unable to fit into language.)

I learned to store my memory outside my head.

Email archives, now that I'm an adult: great huge piles of email archives. Even when having conversations in text leads to vast emotional blowups, which it can do - my liege and I communicate shockingly poorly in text, for example - at least I can verify, if to nobody other than myself, that it actually happened.

Notes, mementoes, small objects that are part of an experience. I still hold a faint woundedness in my heart from when my father lost the baseball bat my grandfather gave me. I, very vaguely, wish that the scars on my forearm from when I self-injured had not faded, because scars are memory, and I know I was there, and I have no proof but what is written in my mind.

Small objects that were simply present at an experience, all part of the defining context of childhood, a thing that hooks into a complex of knowing where I came from, knowing where I was, an entire sense of security built around the familiar and the known.

"Do you need this?"

"It's a candy dish."

It's mints set out for some adult party, lights and nice clothes, something to do with artwork. It's Christmas candies by the tree in the house where I was a child, me tucked around the back of things putting ornaments on the side of the tree that faces the wall, voices singing "Haul out the Holly" from Mame. It's an assortment of pretzel sticks, once, and I cannot for the life of me remember why.

It's a little piece of memory.

"I mean, does it matter? Is it an important, like, family thing?"

I don't know how to answer the question, but since it is just a little piece of memory, not bound to a person, a single important event, something seminal, just part of where-I-came-from like so many other small things and really I don't need all of these little pieces of memory do I, there's enough else that can serve, enough that I don't just ... have my childhood dissolve away into doubt, since it is a trivial piece of memory, I say "We don't need it."

I store my memory outside my head.

29 December, 2009

Infinite Space Bounded in a Glass Ball

This evening I started to inscribe Little Foot's name in glitter and glue on a glass ball. She has a lot of letters, so I merely did the first four, and will wait until it is safe to turn the ornament without smudging to write the rest.

Her name will join the names thus written on other glass balls in past years: the other three adults in my family, the cats' names, and the snake. Come this weekend, my father and his wife will also get to write their names in glue and pick a colour to sparkle in. This way is in its fourth generation at least, now: my grandmother, my father, myself, my child. As generations of humans before me have done, I take the trappings of my old religion with me when I convert. This is the meaning of my Christmastide.

Meaning is a delicate thing, and one does not always take away what was intended.

Perhaps my northern European bloodline appreciates the placement of an abundance festival in the dark of the year - before the worst of the cold, yes, but in the hints of the return of the sun. Perhaps this is so.

Perhaps I am so marinated in Christianity that I cannot give it all up. I would not be the only one.

But: I come back to the ornament, carefully written upon in glue.

If you spend the dark of the winter with my family, you get a name ball. Your name inscribed in glitter, on a glass or satin-coated ball. This is how it has always been, it was so before I was born, I hope it will be so after I go West. A catalogue of names, a litany of memory.

If you will be back in the dark of the next year, your ornament is set aside, awaiting you: none will put it up but you, for it is yours, the token of our collective memory, the sigil of your welcome. If you do not return - if the travel is too much, if the circumstances do not align, if you will come no longer - then we will put it up for you, and remember the times you were present.

I will make cookies and cake for the season, the one a matter of holiday duty, the other a thing of more general celebration, for when my father comes, because it is hard to be properly festive when it is just us and the constant onslaught of baby requirements, but for my father who raised me to these traditions I can go to the effort. Perhaps I will make a roast, I believe we have one kicking around somewhere. And these will be my offerings of abundance for the season more than anything else, the barest essentials, more important than wrapped-up objects to be presented as offerings to the other: I offer food and the promise of the memory of a name.

To be with my family at Christmastime is to be always remembered, to always belong. To always have a place. When I strip away everything else, I am left with this offered universe, written upon in glitter and glue, held always in company and community. That is the holiness that is written upon my heart in the chill dark of the year, when it might be easy to trip into solitude and isolation. This is the community that I build over time, out of fragile glass balls and glue and memory.

For your ka.

13 December, 2009

Space To Be A Family

Raising My Boychick put up a post about what changes we would look for to make the culture safe for families. More or less. Noodling ensues, and I said I'd write it here because gods know I do ramble on.

This isn't a simple damn problem. The anti-family shit is deeply ingrained in the culture. (A Salon article about just some of the more overtly misogynistic bits.) I can look to Europe and see things that are better, though not all of them are what I would want.

After Little Foot was born, I had what is probably one of the best of all possible situations in this culture, because I'm a weirdo with a fantastic family. I could spent the first month of recuperation time almost solely recuperating - because I had three other people who were taking care of Little Foot while I could heal. Which meant that people could take basically an eight-hour shift of babycare and not be too shorted on sleep. And I could pull that off because of my family structure, because I had the luck to give birth near the beginning of the break between summer session and the fall semester, and because people took staggered leave so I wasn't alone with Little Foot until sometime in September. In among that we had a constant stream of visiting relatives who did some assisting in varying levels.

But note all the caveats in there. Most women giving birth do not have two husbands and their wife to help out. We had to stagger leaves from work, and if I'd given birth a week earlier ("on time") there would have been finals to contest with; later gets into the rolling beginning of the semester, and one of us is in grad school and another on staff at a university. And I think that having the four of us there was pretty much a bare minimum to maintain reasonable levels of sanity through my recovery.

I literally have no idea how smaller families do this without losing their shit.

On the other hand, I have no idea how I manage to be sole caretaker for Little Foot during the daytime during the week without losing my shit, so presumably people with smaller families are tapping the same wellspring that gets me through the day until I get relief as people drift home from work, from school, from classes, from errands.

The isolation of taking care of small children is inhuman. Much as I hate all those biological-essentialist notions that go along with How We Are Meant To Be, this is not how we are meant to be. I worked at home prior to Little Foot's arrival, and was more than content, as an introvert, to do so; now, I find myself feeling isolated and sunk into a morass from which it is difficult to escape. I walk down to the gas station to buy snack food solely to leave the house - with Little Foot tucked into a wrap if I'm entirely alone, leaving her in the care of one of her other parents for ten minutes if I have the help. Perhaps it would be easier if we had a second car and I my driving license, but I have no freedom to just go somewhere; even with help getting her into the car is a small project (check diaper bag, get jacket on baby, get wrap for carrying her at destination, get baby out of house, into carseat, buckles all done up). Perhaps it would be easier if we still lived in the city, and I could climb down the two flights of stairs, hop on the trolley, and go somewhere. But even so, my abdominal muscles have still not recovered from pregnancy, and carrying her for too long, I learned yesterday, means that when we extract her from the wrap I fold in half as soon as her weight isn't countering my muscle strain.

But how do we fix this? We can't put the culture back to a place where all the huge extended families are all settled in roughly the same place - even for those of us on good terms with our bloodkin have had reasons to move. Local crunchyparent gatherings have largely been scheduled during daytime hours in places I would have to travel to by car, as if all crunchyparents have one stay-at-home, and that stay-at-home can drive half an hour because they have a dedicated mommycar and no issues that interfere with its use. (I kind of fear noncrunchyparent gatherings, and haven't looked into them at all.) Subdivisions aren't communities, really, though part of that is my lack of any knowledge of how to really get to know my neighbors in any useful way. Childcare services are a bandage, whether it's an in-house nanny or dropping the kids off somewhere, and has its own intrinsic and complicated class issues.

But we don't see mothers (or other caregivers, but like so many things, this falls on the mothers) going about their daily business with a kidlet in a babypouch. Hell, we don't see those mothers going about their daily business - not shopping, not going to the park, I mean going to the office or sitting behind the cash register or whatever else - with baby shoved in a bucket carseat under the counter either. Employers who have in-house childcare are still a minority. The childcare work is invisible and unintegrated. It's done by magic invisible people. We expect the fairies to raise the children, and then we wonder why the children are fey, elf-touched, and unintegratable with the ordinary world.

It needs to be okay to bring the kids in to work, to have that part of life integrated with everything else. But that's not enough. Parents like me have to be able to not be alone all the time. Which means community building, and fucked if I know how to do that. It means stuff like commercially-zoned spaces within walking distance, parks, and spaces that aren't parent-and-child hostile: places to sit and nurse other than bathrooms, sidewalks that are broad enough to accomodate strollers without driving other pedestrians into the street, having public social gathering places that are open to children.

It also needs to be okay to have work have delineated edges. Every so often I hear people complaining about how parents get to take time to take the kids to the doctor, to their lessons, whatever, that parents aren't expected, necessarily, to do more than their nine-to-five, that there's this tidy cultural excuse that means that parents are only expected to do the work they're contracted for and can't reasonably be expected to do more. This is the sort of broken that's why I have a tag 'sixteen tons' on this blog. (And that's just dealing with exempt employees - hourly employees have a whole different set of problems to deal with, and one I'm actually less equipped to speak to despite having all of my life employment being on an hourly wage basis. Class is complicated.) It would be to everyone's benefit - not just parents - if work was not presumed to trump life unless one has a signed permission slip from overculture excusing our absences. (In a culture where only paranoia about swine flu makes taking time off for illness currently acceptable - despite the fact that infecting the office with that cold will cost a lot more than two days off - what the hell do we expect?)

And that's not getting into the whole needing to scrimp and save up vacation time to do parental leave. My lion had the flexibility to take time off and then do a week working from home; most people don't. We had more people than most to do staggered assistance for me. And, even with all that, I was still bleeding out lochia when I settled in to being her primary, and usually sole, daytime caregiver. And see above about the isolation thing, where I have it pretty good since every so often my liege is about when he doesn't have classes and can provide the amazing relief of "Could you pick her up so I can rearrange" or "Could you handle this diaper change" or "Could you mind her for five minutes so I can go buy a donut" - not even, usually, doing primary caretaker (though sometimes he takes her for the morning and lets me get some more sleep), more "a momentary hand with this makes my life an order of magnitude easier".

Most industrialised countries have longer maternity leave times. Some have parental leave that is available to presumed-both parents (adoptive or biological, even). (And even for families like mine where more parental leave might be wanted, those countries also have more than two weeks of vacation time available at all, which goes back to the whole work-trumps-life rant about being expected to work more than one's hours by default.) I don't know where other countries are on flex-time working and telecommuting; getting those widespread would be a help to more parents than me. (When my lion does a telecommuting day, again, my resilience goes up a lot.)

(And, of course, my health and Little Foot's depend on my lion maintaining that pretty nice job that lets him telecommute sometimes including for a week after he took vacation post-birth. Because of the way employment links to health care, and the way that one's quality of job therefore links to one's quality of life. And if there were an NHS here, how much of a difference would that make to people who have to work shitty jobs for the health care, or who needed prenatal care, or post-partum treatment? Who wouldn't have the money to hire the homebirth midwife we had or handle the not technically last-minute transfer to the hospital?)

And I think long-term, too, like the friend who was enraging me a while back (who apologised, by the way), and think, y'know, the time that people spend raising kids should count towards Social Security or something. I don't know if I'm as optimistic as one of the commenters on Raising My Boychick about some kind of parenting wage, but hey. That'd be cool. (Did you know that Norway counts breastmilk production in its GDP?)

Let's see if I can summarise this into something reasonably tidy:

* enabling community support, whether larger families, extended families, chosen families, I don't care, more people available to help with kids for more time
* walkable communities with basic stores and public spaces near residential areas
* death to the Company Store - shorter hours, more vacation, no expectation of overtime as default, flexible scheduling, telecommuting, available to everyone, not just to parents
* universal health care access (here, this'll make up some of the pain to the companies that are being required to treat employees better)
* recognition of parenting as ... I don't want to say 'economically productive' because I dislike the whole 'it has to be qualified as Real Work and quantified monetarily for anyone to take it seriously' shit, but somewhere in the direction of, y'know, noting this happens, we don't get new taxpayers from the aforementioned childrearing fairies
* parental leave available for all legally recognised parents (acknowledging that families like mine are unlikely to be accomodated here but), whether biological or adoptive
* integrating caregivers with the community, not separating off and isolating paid caregivers (more in-house childcare in companies, etc.)

How's that for a start?

11 December, 2009


When I was a child and trying to get to sleep, I would tell myself little fantasy stories all about the boy I fancied and how in a fantasy world he needed to be rescued and afterwards we would live happily ever after.

When I got a little older, I got uncomfortable with that because what if he didn't want me, so I would tell myself little fantasy stories that were only mostly about the boy I fancied and how ... etc.

When I got a little older, I built raw fantasy out of my kinks to soothe myself to sleep, with intricate gearwork constructions of bondage, domination, and service.

Once I had a sexual partner, I would assemble bits and pieces of fantasies out of things we'd done and extrapolations thereof.

Often, these would be kinked, playing with ideas, coming up with scenarios and notions.

... now, when I am trying to get to sleep, my mind is full of baby smiles. And holding her close, cradling her in my arms, and actually having the strength to not have to let go, back away, get a little space, and breathe so that I do not lose my mind. Actually having the infinite patience that is back behind the archetype, being able to pour all the love into her that she can hold.

I honestly find it more than a bit confusing.

And I would miss the sex dreams, if I had space left in my mind to have them.

06 December, 2009


I've turned on the feature that adds a captcha thing to the blog because I'm starting to get stupid quantities of comment spam. Sorry for the inconvenience.

01 December, 2009


And here is my response to The Adult Privilege Checklist, now.

When my mother was up visiting, she had a lot of commentary, as she will do, and one of the things she said was something scornful about Inappropriate Parent-Child Relationships, specifically that my father wanted to "give me a vote" in how family things were conducted.

I have no idea if he did this. I have no idea if she is correct that this fell into the weird dynamic he had with his mother. I have no memory of any such thing, but I don't believe I necessarily would have.

What I remember, though, is that I always felt that my father took my opinions seriously, even when he disagreed or thought that I was uninformed or not able to think things through. And I know that she thought that this was inappropriate, was "treating me like an adult", as opposed to treating me like, as I thought at the time, a person.

It frustrated me no end as a child to not be treated as a person. To know that my input was dismissable solely because of my age. I carried that resentment into my teen years, and it got sharper and more bitter when I saw adults doing things that I had never been idiot enough to do and still figuring that they knew better than me.

(I came to some sort of political consciousness during the Reagan Administration. One afternoon I drew Federal budget pie charts with made-up numbers, trying to figure out where I thought the money could go, because I was sure that I could make the budget work right. I never knew where to find the figures; if I had had the internet back then, I would probably have gone looking so I could make it work. This was naive - but it also came with this intense need to be taken seriously in my contributions, and a need to think deeply about those things that entered my awareness. Also, I was a weird, weird kid.)

I've settled into being a sort of attachment-parenty mum, and I think that's settled into the whole 'listening' thing that was what I wanted as a child. It's hard, when Little Foot wants to be held all the time, or when she's fussy and I can't figure out what's wrong, or whatever else, but I can't bear for her to feel unheard. I recognise that she didn't ask to be here, or to have a wet diaper, or to be maybe-probably-teething, or any of the other indignities of infancy, and that she has definite opinions about the world. (One of the latest appears to be "Cats are fascinating!")

And we talk a lot of theory about what's best for Little Foot. She's four months old and we talk about schooling already, and I wonder if I could bear homeschooling/unschooling/whatever her without going mad from the sheer pressure of parenthood (and look at my spiritual teacher/mentor, who likewise was not sure she could do this, but took up homeschooling her special-needs child because the school system could not serve him well). There's a maternity-and-childhood consignment store, and the gelfling (my husbands' wife) has commented we can bring kids there and say, "You get to pick one piece of clothing" or whatever, and everything is under ten bucks, and that addresses parts of the whole nonconsensuality of clothing thing. I plot out how best to raise her without my twitchinesses around food, whether it's possible to raise a child more socially ept than I am granted that I don't have skills to convey to her, and similar. I think about how to feed her, how to nurture her, how to make sure she's aware of her own self-possession. I remember the story of the little girl who snapped "SAFEWORD!" when people wouldn't stop tickling her, and think about how to teach that.

I cuddle her when she cries, which is not often, as we try to be attentive to her needs and she spends much time curled up with one parent or another. My lion currently has her downstairs bouncing on the exercise ball because she wouldn't go down to sleep and I took her last night; earlier I heard her laughing and burbling as my liege read his flash cards for school out loud to her (and apparently she was grabbing them out of his hands and putting them down in the 'done' pile, having figured out that the cards go from the pile on the left to the pile on the right in the game that Da was playing). As she grows older, she will grow broader opinions, she will think about politics and the world, she will be frustrated by, among other things, department stores and counters that are too tall to see over and shopkeepers who look past her when she has a question (to remember particularly persistent things from my own childhood).

There's a lot I can't plan for, because I don't know what she will have to say once she gets words to say it in. (Or signs. I've been doing intermittent bits of babysigns at her, though she's still too young to get it, just so there's context for her to get it from when she hits the right cognitive stage.) And I have to accept that, and remember that my first job as mama is to listen, not to force her into the space that is convenient for me to allocate.

She tells me what she needs, when I pay attention. The trick will be not breaking that.

29 November, 2009

Non-Ranty Mamablogging

It's hard for me to figure out how to write about this whole motherhood gig, because I'm pretty much convinced that the stuff I can't turn into some kind of political rant or interesting bit of introspection about the nature of my personal reality will be boring to the entire rest of the universe so why write it? Which tends to bias me towards only writing about stressors, because stressors are for blogging.

I don't think that's entirely well-balanced, so I want to fix it.

Here's Little Foot, vigorously waving a toy lion made for her by Vieva, who appears occasionally in the comments here. (Little Foot's a Leo. This was pretty much the logic under which the animal was chosen.)

She really loves her lion. It is one of her two favorite current toys (the other being a small fish with a jinglebell in it gotten off Etsy). If she's lying on on the floor and presented with the lion, her face will light up, she will grab it by two limbs, and then (usually) roll onto her side as if she's attempting to bodyslam it and gurgle happily. Up until she flings it up over her shoulder and then fusses because oh noes the lion it has ceased to exist.

The rest of the time she manages to drop the lion on her face and then flips out because it's eating my face it's eating my face get it off get it off get it off!

She also grabs the corners of blankets and often winds up pulling them over her face, which leads to what I call an Object Permanence Crisis: "The cosmos has ceased to be, for I cannot see it! Alert! Alert!" I am perhaps not as sympathetic to this as I ought to be, I merely free her from the predations of the reality-annihilating spit rag.

I am reasonably confident that we have done horrible things to her sleep cycles, as they have settled in at this point to semi-conform to mine, and I keep really weird hours. She does, however, willingly sleep something like five hours at a go almost every night, which is pretty good for not quite four months old. She's a little fussy lately, we think because she's contemplating the possibility of teething part time when she remembers to, but not terribly so, and she rarely cries all that much - though the last few days she's frequently woken up from a sound sleep going from zero to howling, and I suspect babynightmares.

Much like the family has one night a week for dinner prep obligations, we've divided things up so one of each weeknight one of the parents is on primary baby duty, which means they handle diapers and so on as much as is possible. This is a great system, and I highly recommend that anyone thinking of having a baby accumulate as many allomothers as they can handle, because the level of sanity this enables is amazing.

Today, the other half of the family returned from Thanksgiving away from home, due to complexities of compromise and family obligation; Little Foot went down for a nap after nursing at about 11:30, giving me two hours in which I could put together a perfect little family dinner to welcome them home with. This worked out brilliantly, and she didn't wake up until they got back, which meant other people got to deal with the next diaper.

I'll not deny that doing the full-time daytime parent thing is very hard for me. I'm a pretty extreme introvert, and an infant is, of course, demanding and in my personal space a huge chunk of the time. The help I can get from the rest of the family is critical to my ongoing stability and competence as a mum.

But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that post-partum depression rates have a lot to do with support structures. I'm aware that my long-term history with clinical depression makes me really high risk, and there have been times that I've felt the stresses pushing on the edges of toppling over into a depressive state. But I haven't been there yet. (I suspect, if it happens, it'll be when the other half of the family moves back into their house after they finish their renovations, because having the people around both for company and babyassistance is a big deal.) And part of not having been there is being able to say "Hey, could someone get me out from under the baby for a bit?" before I hit some kind of internal meltdown crisis point. It's leaving me feeling increasingly militant about the need for real social support structures for mothers, and that if the sort of feminism I'd been exposed to had been, say, the stuff from Mothers for Women's Lib and blogs I've found from there I might have a much less bitter relationship with the word "feminist" these days, as opposed to the reflexive comparisons between being a stay-at-home parent and the 1950s with their subtextual suggestion that there's a necessary equivalence. (I saw an instance of this yesterday. But this is supposed to be a non-ranty post, not another "Oh look, I get to be a brainwashed pawn of the patriarchy, Donna Reed style!" post.)

Anyway, out of the politicalised bits. I love watching Little Foot work on figuring out the world. We got her a bouncy seat to set her down in at times, and then we got a toybar for it. At first, she flailed her hands vaguely and was stunned when things moved. And then, slowly, over time, she moved to deliberate manipulations: that bead will slide from side to side, that flower spins. (A bit after that, she got bored with it, so I took it off the seat for a while and now she's willing to play with it again.) The process of cognitive development is amazing.

For example - this was something my liege noticed - I have one of those hawk silhouette decal things intended to keep birds from flying into windows stuck to my bathroom mirror, because I'm a weirdo. For a while, when we brought Sad Baby in there to dampen a wipe to change her diaper, she would stare at the decal and Fall Silent, because of the primitive mammal reflex that goes SHIT DEATH FROM ABOVE at raptor silhouettes. Now she looks at the baby in the mirror (or the parent in the mirror) instead.

When she sees me for the first time in a while - and some values of 'a while' are 'five minutes' - her face lights up with joy and she kicks enthusiastically two or three times with the sheer exuberance of it all. And I wonder, sometimes, if I have ever before had in my life someone so unreservedly happy to see me. There are times it makes me think of the stereotypical imaginary teenaged girl who has a baby 'so someone will love her unconditionally', and, weirdly, being a mother has given me more sympathy for that half-myth than I ever thought possible, even while it gives me an ironclad, hardcore, "Oh no no no no, hon, you don't have any idea what you're getting into."

I look at the world and I try to find ways to protect my child from parts of it, to introduce it to her so she can navigate it without taking grievous harm, to show her how to be strong and secure. I know that nobody escapes childhood unscathed, but I pray every day that she escapes it unmaimed.

More politically flavored post later, riffing some on these links assembled by Elf of Dreamwidth. I've been reading more and more of what gets called "mommyblogs" lately, for obvious reasons. (Psst, Mamacrow, you have a parenting blog somewhere, right?)

I leave you on this note:

15 November, 2009

The Cult of Mommon

Trinity posted a link to this article thing. And, man.

But let's talk about the greatest gift a woman can receive: being a mommy.

This pisses me the fuck off even more now that I have a Little Foot to look after. I mean, the gender-essentialist 'women are all about the baybeez' thing has always annoyed me, especially since I know plenty of women who aren't so much and a few men who are, and the amount of 'No, really, you should have kids (unless you're some kind of my-standard-of-defective, in which case you should never come within a half mile of one)' bullshit in this culture makes me crazy.

I'm not touching the rest of this stupid article, just that one sentence.

No, "being a mommy" is not a fucking gift. The magic stork did not drop by my place with a giftwrapped angelbaby who never requires anything inconvenient, okay?

You know where my baby came from? My innards. And I built her over forty-one weeks of nausea, increasing mobility impairment, heartburn, significant gender dysphoria, emotional fragility, and, admittedly, reprieve from my depression. Her arrival was two days of fucking back labor, frustration, blood loss, and twelve goddamn stitches done despite the fact that apparently my body will only consider believing in lidocaine for brief moments.

Gifts do not require twelve stitches upon receipt, people.

And that's not touching on people who had C-sections, who went through long-term adoption processes, who otherwise, y'know, worked and sacrificed and bled and paid for their shot at 'being a mommy'. Or a daddy. Or. That's not touching on people who have been locked out of parenthood because the adoption agency won't place with a gay parent. That's not touching on a whole lot of things.

Being a mommy is not something that was bestowed upon me like the halo on a medieval madonna painting, unlike what this sentence would like you to believe. This sentence, like all of the mommy-worship culture, wants to paint a beatific portrait of motherhood, the angel of the household proven with the babe-in-arms.

Being a parent is something that one does. And it's something that one has to do every single day, a constant choice, a deliberate act.

Deliberate consciously chosen perpetual commitments: also not gifts.

What makes me a mother is not mystical processes bestowed upon me by a benevolent universe because I have a worthy uterus. It is not some external thing that fluttered down and spread its wings over my family.

What makes me a mother is sitting here typing this blog post with Little Foot cradled in one elbow because she needs to nurse. What makes me a mother is bouncing her when she has bellyache, changing her diapers, giving her a bath. What makes me a mother is doing this even when I feel like crud because of my current state of illness. And, y'know, these same things - barring the breastfeeding - are the things that make the other members of my family parents.

I have always had a vocation towards motherhood, and always been aware of what that would require of me. I spent ages fearful about this, worried that my depression would mean that I was doomed to be a failure as a mother, someone who would not be able to properly care for my child. And frankly I resent the idea that the years of work and therapy and personal development I spent preparing, the nine months of gestation, and the weeks of recovery and childcare are a gift as opposed to a goddamn accomplishment.

And there is a trap in this "gift" language - if a mother has a bad day, needs someone else to look after the kid because ohmygodsI'mgoinginsaneIwillneverhavepersonalspaceagain or thescreamingthescreaming or ifIdon'tgettwohoursofuninterruptedsleepnowsohelpmeIwillexplode or whatever else - well, that's being an ungrateful bitch. Because motherhood is a "gift", you know, this magic thing bestowed upon the worthy and enuterused, and that means that one is obligated to bow one's head and cradle the baby and look holy so that the motherworship can commence, because how can we properly revere someone who has mud and blood in the sacred motherhood and who acknowledges that there are times that it is fucking hard to do and my gods, I'm pulling my hair out here need some time away, etc.?

The "gift" of motherhood is a trap, simultaneously erasing investment and effort and commitment and choice and dedication and making it unconscionable to express displeasure, talk about issues, have postpartum depression, express a realistic picture of what it is to have a baby. It erases the experience in order to replace it with something clean and pristine that can be adored without contemplation of consequences or actual respect for the real efforts of mothers.

I am not your fucking madonna-and-child icon, proving my worth for worship by placid acceptance of this bounty.

Motherhood is not a fucking present.

A baby is not lagniappe.

Little Foot is tucked up against my breast, one arm wrapped around it with her cheek pillowed on the nipple. When I look at her, she smiles in her sleep; if she were awake, she would meet my eyes and beam with a toothless grin, pure delight at being with me.

That is a gift.

08 November, 2009

His Mind is Engaged in the Rapt Contemplation

Lissy at Thinking About My Kink wrote a post linking to a Feministe post about the changing of names, and now that Feministe is back up from whatever it was doing before, I'm reading the comments over there.

And the person in there who annoyed Lissy is almost making me annoyed enough to post a comment on Feministe explicitly denying that my nonexistent feminism was 'why' I didn't change my name when I was legally married. (That feminism made this possible for me to do readily is a given historical fact; it doesn't have so much to do with my decisions on the matter.) It's not about your goddamn movement, okay? (And I'm even setting aside here the rant in which I note my opinion that talking about whether something is a "feminist choice" is pernicious, not least because it always degenerates into the sort of "you're calling me a bad person", "no I'm not I'm just saying your choices are bad" froth that's going down over there.)

My lion and I talked briefly about whether or not I was gonna change my name. He was profoundly touched that I had even, for a moment, considered it, as he had assumed that I wouldn't. And that contemplation made clear to me that my surname was the only part of my legal name that I had any sense of strong identification with - annoying though it is to have because nobody can spell it and nobody can pronounce it, it is my goddamn name. If I were going to "change my name" it would be mucking about with the forename portions, and certainly at that time I had no idea what I would change my first name to if I changed it.

(I do know how I would legally change my name if I did so at this point. I have not done so, not because I'm 'waiting to get married' or any of the other things that have been raised in that thread, but because I am undecided about the hassle, kind of tickled in a pseudo-anarchist way by the idea that the government knows me by a name that isn't 'mine', and, fundamentally, haven't gotten up my arse to wrestle with the paperwork. It's apparently not that hard to do around here - a friend of mine changed her name, both fore and aft, a few years ago - I just haven't gotten my shit together. And that's for a forename change where I know what I'd change it to. I make notes on legal paperwork sometimes with an aka in case I ever do make a legal change?)

So, yeah. I have this surname thing. It's attached to an ethnic heritage; it is in fact attached to the ethnic heritage that is the smallest part of my genetic makeup, but a greater point of personal identification than many, and from a beautiful part of the world with a landscape that feels right to me. (Perhaps not as right as my more recently ancestral stones and streams of New England, which is more recent bloodline, but still comfortably correct.) It is also attached to the side of my family I have more cultural kinship with. In some ways, all the hassle that came of having the surname made me more attached to it, as opposed to the rather generic-for-my-generation forename and distinguished-but-only-used-attached-to-the-forename middle name I got.

Further, though I was not involved with my liege when my lion and I got married, it was pretty well established that my ideal situation would involve me having two marital relationships. In a multi-spousal poly situation, the whole name-change-upon-marriage thing turns into a level of relational calculus that is frankly beyond me. My liege comments that this is what clan names are for, but unfortunately we don't have any way of establishing a legal-socially meaningful tribe. It's just easier this way, even if it means that the four adults have four different surnames.

(Oh gods. Someone's using 'the personal is political' to mean 'your private choices are reflections on my movement's effectiveness and thus mine to harsh on you for' again. The same someone who irked me enough to write this post. Gods be. What is it they say, never read the comments? And, I mean, yes, the social convention of name-changing irks me, though it doesn't piss me off like getting letters addressed to Mrs. Lion Hislastname, like I don't even have a fucking forename of my own.)

I also find it useful to be able to respond truthfully to telemarketers asking for Mrs. Hislastname that there is nobody here by that name, but hey.

So we get into the iterative decisions about names. Like kids.

Honestly, my expectation was that my first kid would have his surname, next one mine, to do equal time for everyone. But in the larger family discussions, we talked about it, and there was general argument that it was probably for the best to have siblings with the same surname to make social things easier. And that for children I bear, that surname would be mine - because I feel strongly about my family name and want it to persist, because my brother does not intend to have children, and because it cuts off the implied answer to "But which one is her real father" at the fucking knees and requires that people who want to be that unconscionably rude actually verbalise rather than assume they know the answer based on differing surnames.

(When I announced Little Foot's name to my relatives, my father asked me if she had my surname because of his notion that female children should take their mother's name and male children their father's. By the way.)

And maybe that choice "makes it easier for others" to choose to keep their name, or change it, or whatever else. But the thing is, I don't give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about that. There's just, y'know, time better spent. And for matters like surnaming, that time's probably best spent trying to get the legal stuff changed to what it apparently is in Quebec, where a name change requires getting a name change, not getting married. Rather than talking about how Those Women are doing it wrong - not even about the apparent half the population who thinks that women changing their name should be legally mandated, nope, Those Women.

Always doing it wrong, Those Women. Pretty sure I did it wrong by not Striking A Blow For Feminism there. (Alternately, that feminist motives will be projected upon me by people who are inclined to do so, whether for or against. Which is further evidence that "feminist choice" is nonsense phrasing.) Oh well then.

20 October, 2009

Unwritten Letters

Dear ____________,

You don't know me. We met in passing at your son's first wedding; you asked something about the logistics while I was setting up the centrepieces on the reception tables, I answered you, and when I was done with my task I fled to the bride's room to hide from you. I'm sure you figured out that I was his lover when they insisted on taking photographs that included me (as well as my husband) over your objections. I'm sure that it was not lost on you that we helped clean up the place as if we were part of the basic logistics, not merely guests, and were the ones who said the last goodbyes as all the wedding guests drifted away.

There was a time you liked the idea of me, wanted to meet me - back when you thought of me as a human being. A fellow potter, perhaps, or someone who could provide useful advice. Someone who was important to your son, yes, and I suppose that was a part of why you said you were looking forward to the opportunity.

I have this thing, though, that I won't meet people under false pretences if I can possibly avoid it. I most particularly will not step under their roof with the expectation that I will be lying to them, and pretending to be anything other than his partner would be a deception. I have a particular sense of hallpeace that I will not be so easily brought to violate; it would be an insult and a dishonor to my host were I to do so.

I know that I stopped being a person to you as soon as you knew. I was no longer someone with a set of shared interests, someone who was a major presence in your son's life; I was a symbol of so many things gone wrong, and that symbol overwhelmed any human fellowship we might have had.

I know and understand that you were hurt badly and betrayed by a partner who was unfaithful to you. I wish I could tell you that I will not betray your son and be heard, or that his devotion to me was not a betrayal of his legal spouse. I do not know how to mend this at all, or even if it is mendable; it is certainly not anything I can touch, because you have made me your enemy whether I will it or not.

There is nobody in the world beyond my immediate family whose recognition matters more to me than yours; nobody I want more to acknowledge me as his wife. I think that you are one of the people who has mattered to him most in the world, which means your regard matters to me. It might be better for me if I could dismiss it as a matter of insignificance, but that is not within my power. I am vulnerable to you; I cannot say I like it, but I acknowledge it and accept it. My dedication to your son means that you have that gut shot available to you, and that is okay.

When he and I got married, we had long, long talks about who to invite. We brought in our community as witnesses, because marriage is a thing about community. I invited my father and my brother. He wound up inviting no relatives, because he could not expect you to understand. I know how much it meant to me to have my father there, especially recognising that he is not perfectly comfortable with the structure of my family. I wish we could have opened our ceremony to include you.

I wish I could spare him the pain of all this. Or at least that I could set my own pain and anxiousness aside and just hold him rather than be plagued with tearing weakness that means that he must comfort me instead of the other way around. Every time you and he talk, I see his pain and frustration, not just at your refusal to see me or your refusal to see him, but at losing you. I wish things were different, that he did not feel forced into a choice between his mother and his wife, that ... I just wish things were different.

I wish I could talk to you and put it right, never mind that what is wrong is in a place I could not touch if I tried. There is a part of me that fervently believes that if you could see us, spend a little time with us, get to know us and our family, that you might come to forgive us for not being the white picket fence family you wanted your son to have. I know this is a fantasy, a little dream world that I spin to make it seem like this could possibly be under my control and thus something I could fix, something that could fall into a realm I could affect. Something that I could change, make better. Something that I could heal.

I know that I cannot, and it may never be better, never be different. Which is why, while I may write you letters in my mind, I cannot send them.

14 October, 2009

Angles of Approach

Shapely Prose recently hosted a discussion of how to approach women in public, the comments on which had me thinking about a lot of things.

The comment that particularly got me was this one, which included the question: "But, if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men?"

I wish I knew what good that was supposed to do.

Now, I don't get hassled on the subway or whatever terribly often these days. I don't know if it's the area I live in or that of the people in the vicinity I have sufficient armouring to make me not look like a good mark (between the wedding rings, the leather jacket, the frequent headphones and/or book, and the tendency to pull my hat down over my eyes and nap). But I cannot for the life of me see how more women approaching men will change what hassles I do get.

I mean, I've been over 50% of the initiation effort for every relationship I've been in other than the one that ended in attempted rape. (And that does not make me any the more comfortable with random approaches. It, in fact, makes me more aggressive about pursuing actual interests because I don't want them approaching me lest I go all woobly-minded.)

If I were doing this in the hope of fixing street harassment it would be, you know, a total, dismal failure. Because not only do nitwits on the street not know whether or not I'd tell them if I was interested in them, they do not care. They are expressing less articulate versions of this guy's argument (when they're not just trying to get a response out of a woman):

I think a lot of men will think along this line – “what’s the point of her thinking I’m a trustworthy person if we don’t have that conversation and there’s still at least the possibility of Penis tourism and, possibly, 100 pretty babies.”

If you’re interested in talking to her, but you don’t talk to her because of her assumed boundaries, and you don’t risk to be rejected, you may feel good about yourself, being the trustworthy person that you are, but you don’t get anything else for it.


And that’s where the problem is. In a very real way, I think, for him, the more rational approach would be to politely say hello and see if he’s interested, always being alert about her reactions, and withdrawing if she shows any kind of disinterest. That way, while having been interrupted, she may even get the impression that the guy was able to understand her saying no – to him. A no that was not assumed, but real.

The comments were closed at Shapely Prose before I could reply to this, and it's a hard time to formulate it. But I'm left with ... what a modern-capitalism notion of transactional analysis. Immediate profit potential over long-term gain.

I mean, there's this thousand-comment long thread about how this sort of thing means that women out in public are more likely to be closed down and unwilling to engage with people, which, as a long-term system, doesn't do well for what this guy claims to be wanting to get. But the miniscule chance of that one-in-a-lot shot at getting laid means continuing to degrade the environment such that women feel the need to be on guard in public, thereby keeping those odds nice and low.

Cannot think past end of penis, apparently.

I commented recently on not liking being approached in part because the relationship started that way ended in attempted rape? Got this response, quoted verbatim:

"It's not fair to deprive men of the ability to approach you because one raped you."

Kinda oozes sex appeal, doesn't it? Look at what I'm missing!

01 October, 2009

The Invisible Woman

A few weeks back, I think it was, now, there were a number of people blogging about invisible disabilities and the sorts of effects they have. And I considered rattling around and doing the questionnaire, a bit, but decided against it for a variety of reasons.

I did want to highlight Erynn Laurie's post about things people say, though.

One of the things about these ... things (okay, must stop being word-clever or I'll sound like gibberish to myself) is the way so many of them wind up wedging themselves into the mind. Invisible disability can become even invisible to the person who has it.

And there's an entire fucking industry of cultural crap designed to keep it that way.

Have a look at this article, which a friend linked recently.

Do you see what I see?

In case you missed it, what I see is this paragraph:

In the past, researchers have raised allegations of ghostwriting in articles about quality-of-life drugs like antidepressants, painkillers and diet pills. But the situation has become more serious this year after a few editors said they had discovered ghostwriting in manuscripts about life-and-death products like cancer and hematology drugs.

Yeah, those antidepressants and painkillers. Not life-and-death at all. It's not like people commit suicide for their lack or anything like that. It's not like they can make a difference between soul-sucking misery and a life worth living, or even the possibility to live it in anything resembling a half-functional way.

And you know why people can write paragraphs like that?

Because people who need antidepressants or painkillers are socially constructed as weak. Our disabilities are personal failures, quirks of neurology that any proper person would have been able to handle already, really, honestly, would you shut up and stop whining?

I know someone who begins every comment on their struggle to get their invisible illnesses treated with a comment about how they're such a whiner and it's all in their head and they need to pull up those bootstraps and stop being so pathetic - and I don't know how much of that is serious belief and how much is voicing those gremlins so they can function. And for all that I wish that that little voice would stop plaguing that person so loudly, I ...

... can't say that I don't have it too.

I mean, I can claim that I'm too disabled to be able to stably hold down an office job. But I know I did it for a while, right? Enough to pay the rent, even though I slowly whittled myself down into someone who couldn't engage with anything she actually valued because every last bit of me was spent on keeping that job and doing it reasonably well. That's not an inability to function. "You know, deep down, you're just a lazy ass, not someone who genuinely can't handle that."


Half of what I do sometimes is justifying. It's okay that I don't chase Corporate America, because I have written so many words today. It's okay that I don't put on my pink-collar drag and go answer phones until I want to scream because I took some time to teach someone or help them out of a bad spot. Lately, it's okay that I don't do that because it's not like I could bring in enough income to pay for childcare anyway, right?


Because it's invisible, and not even the sort of invisible that other people would believe is real if they knew. I don't have a heart condition like my brother; that's a real disability. I'm just ... touched in the head. A little blue. And I should get over the stuff that I haven't gotten over, I'm such a useless whiny bitch sometimes.


23 September, 2009

Monster of Mothers

I am the monster under the bed.

(Apparently under the big bed, the one that holds 'all of you'.)

I am off the edge of your map, and I am prowling. You make noise and flash lights as if I might be driven into the imaginary by your denial, you pretend I am not there, and by that pretending you cast my shadow large and misshapen, huge and slavering and consuming things you thought you knew.

I come in the night and seduce away what you thought was yours, what would live by the rules of civilised climes, the way you thought things should be. I am nothing but a shadow, not a creature of substance; what you know of me matters not against what I mean. Perhaps I am the shadow of a real evil, nothing but the hound of a cult trailing along in the footsteps of other unreality. Perhaps I am the demoness herself, spiked and sorcerous.

But - I tell you this - never forget that in the shadow that you made there is a child.

Because there is where you will meet the real beast.

Do not forget my daughter, treat her as an irrelevance, dismiss her. Do not attempt to use her as a leverage point to peel away one or another of her parents. Do not attempt to wail and claw at the horror of a child cradled in such darkness as mine, because I will want to introduce you to darkness then, I will want to and I will hold back because her innocence will not be stained with blood so unworthy.

I will hold back a while. I will wait you out, I may try to laugh because the fairy tales are so comically twisted and unreal. I will let you tell your stories if they help you sleep at night. I will swallow up my own pain at being driven away and warped into shadows, my reality ignored because you must have your stories and hold them up over what is real. I will bleed for you, you who live in the light and order of civilised lands and must have tidiness and hold the borders of your world strong, and believe me, I bleed every moment my humanity is less important to you than your fictions and your "It's just wrong, I can't tell you why." I will let you fucking flay me alive with your weapons of annihilation, without denying that that is what you are doing to me.

I will do this for you.

So long as you leave my child alone, cradled within the arms of her family.

I am the monster of mothers, and you who live in Heorot should leave us be.

17 September, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Alias

Dianne Sylvan wrote recently at her Dancing Down the Moon about feeling alienated, isolated, or separated from the overall pagan community, and I sort of want to write about that (to the best of my current somewhat frazzled ability).

I feel, more often than not, very complicated about 'pagan community'. In ways that often remind me of my nasty breakup with science fiction fandom, more than anything else: the sense of "This is a space built for people like you, so long as 'people like you' is appropriately edited for content", the sense of "Let's bond over all this stuff we have in common (without noticing when we don't actually have any of this stuff in common)."

Like the person who commented recently that sexual domination has no place in paganism, because that shit is evil, yo. (And the people who followed up on that with, more or less, 'How can you be so nasty to people who are into BDSM? It's not like it's rape fantasies!' didn't exactly help with that, even though that's not one of my things.) Or, more benignly, all of the people talking about the autumn equinox, what are you doing, tell me about your plans, introduce me to this festival, and it's not my fucking festival and even though I accept the genero-pagan wheelyear as really damn popular and that people aren't asking me specifically what I'm doing for Someone Else's Bloody Holiday, I am, for one reason or another, just tired and touchy about it. Or a recent "How can we update the triple goddess concept to suit more people?" Or whatever.

So when I look at public-sphere paganism I see, well, I see:

Mother goddess and Her horned heterocentric consort, in a circle, on the sabbats or by moonphases, spellcasting, Greek-derived ceremonial magic elements, eco-religion as dogma, sexuality is sacred but not any of that pain blood domination stuff, an it harm none, not a Satanist you know, everyone is a priest, and so on. Let us meditate on nothing whatever substantial and then do a spiral dance.

None of this connects to me, seeing as I'm a full-up polytheist who hasn't gotten the work done to sort out her goddamn liturgical calendar aside from the 'hey, someone's got a holiday, I can handle an excuse for a party' level, not much for the magical foo as commonly done and overall over my attempt to categorise everything by classical element, too genderqueer and kinky for a nice sex ritual, not overly hung up on being nice, possibly technically a Satanist in some interestingly askew ways, cranky about being shoved into a priestly role inappropriately by idiots, and so on.

Which means that, in the overwhelming majority of public pagan spaces, I feel like an idiot.

Feeling like an idiot is not conducive to meaningful religious experience.

I'm entirely capable of going to Someone Else's Religious Ritual and having a meaningful experience, mind. I did it all through my going-to-church childhood; I have decent odds of pulling it off when I attend PantheaCon; in a lot of ways, my own religious practice group is built around making meaningful Someone Else's Religious Ritual for all parties present, not pushing anyone notably further out of their comfort zone than anyone else. But this sense of specifically-for-someone-else-that-they-assume-is-me feeling is a bloody mess. PCon is deliberately a kind of religious smorgasboard anyway, and I approach it as such.

I'm left with this sense of "What the hell do I do here?", mostly, in it all. Because the public stuff is so unsatisfying - and it was unsatisfying even before I settled into my current religious orientations. But there's no space for people like me to do our thing (even if people-like-me, by which I mean me, as I'm the only one doing my particular thing really, had our shit together to be able to pull off a public thang if we wanted to), because the cast-your-circle, invite-your-pair-of-sex-differentiated-deities, do-your-spell, be-happy-and-have-cake stuff is so fucking normative that one can get screamed at for a, "Sorry, I can't help you, it's not my holiday" let alone actually showing some reality.

So people like me stop showing up.

And apparently people like Dianne Sylvan, who's actually published books about Wicca and thus presumably had some greater personal stake in Wicca-like religion than I do, stop showing up too.

Who the hell shows up anymore?

It's a real problem.

15 September, 2009

On Demand

This is going to be damned hard to write, okay, so I'm going to start out asking you to bear with me here. I've been trying to write it on and off for a couple of weeks, and have made not so much with the headway, so ... yeah. (Some of the wanting to write is wanting to try to untangle what's in my head so maybe it can get better, too, which makes the frustrated inability to articulate even more aggravating.)

I think I'm gonna try being blunt rather than getting the nuance right to start out with, because hitting the precise spot is more energy than I've got. Again, bear with me, I'm navigating the shoals here.

Motherhood has completely fucked up my d/s.

Not in the way one might expect from the cultural pressure stuff, the whole "Now that I am a Real Adult, I must put aside these Foolish Things Of My Youth" bullshit.

Here's the thing.

Okay, here are the multiple things.

The first one is a general new-parent thing, I think. It's amazing how much of my life just drops into Little Foot's adorable orbit. Even aside from the time I invest in caring for her, holding her is one of these simple joys that persists. (And I'm constantly torn between wanting to hold her when I'm good and happy with it and knowing that I'm fully capable of burning myself out emotionally on overcontact, and trying to balance the "I must hold my kid" with the "If I don't have someone else hold her right now I'm going to go totally fucking batshit.") I have amazing levels of help - not just that Little Foot has a four-parent family, but also miscellaneous parents and friends coming by - my dad's been here most recently and taking a lot of Sitting Down Under The Baby duty, for example. I know I would not be functioning terribly well without that help.

And at the same time, I feel horrifyingly alone. Because all this energy goes to helping-me-with-the-baby, not helping-me, and ... I've been articulating to the husbands a bit that I have a snuggle shortage. It's helping a little, to sit with my lion and lean on him for a while, or my liege coming up and just ... talking with me for a bit before he heads off to class. That's getting me back trending at least not away from sane. But there's this increasing level of awful neediness in me, and I don't know what to do about it, and I have to balance it with the fact that Little Foot is much more fragile than I am and less capable of taking care of her own needs, to understate a smidge.

And there's another thing. It doesn't matter how hard I kink for service stuff, I am 24/7 on call for a master who is nothing but demanding and has essential claims on use of portions of my body. This is exhausting. And it doesn't leave me much flexibility for more negotiated service, either; it's hard not to meet a request with snappishness, not because I resent the request, but because, say, an afternoon of Grunty McFusspot and her pants-related events or her habit of shaking my nipple like a terrier who's finally gotten a grip on a long-pursued rat does not leave me feeling generous and full of warm, giving spirit. Which is not a get-out-of-commitments free situation by any means, but it does add a layer of stress to the whole experience.

So while I'm needing care and support - and would truly love to have some of the protective restorative energy that some of the d/s we do affords me - I wind up feeling like I have nothing to offer right now. Enthusiastic service is a bit rough. I can fetch tea, so long as I'm not Sitting Down Under The Baby, and that's about what I'm up for. And I have a hard time asking for things, even as I recognise that I have standing orders to do so, especially when I don't feel I have anything to balance the scales with.

It of course does not help that I had twelve stitches put in my chassis, and while that appears to have healed up, I have a ridge of scar tissue running up one side of certain rather sensitive bits of anatomy (a direction I rather prefer than down the perineum proper, but nonetheless it has its inconveniences) and my lochia is only now appearing to resolve itself. Sexual frustration has surfaced occasionally, and often gone in really awfully messy dissociative direction, because - again - for all that I enjoy sexual service, being cut off from any form of the possibility of physical reciprocation meant that it was intensely onesided and mostly underscored the sense of body-failure without offering satisfaction to me. Touch was treacherous, unsafe, with its risks of going places that ached too much to bear. Normal sexual reactions in a partner that I would ordinarily enjoy felt like being cornered, pressured, trapped; my incapacity exposed and still demanded upon. This has not been pleasant.

And, on top of it all, I'm intensely emotionally vulnerable, not in ways that promote intimacy; rather, they promote a sort of isolating self-protection. My liege is busy with a major renovation project, with being in school, and with helping take care of Little Foot; my ability to read his current emotional state is heavily dependent on a lot of factors, primary among them how well my ability to connect to people is going (not well, of late) and how relaxed he is (not very, of late). Which means I go all paranoid about questions like whether my inability to do little service things without emotional drama or the fact that Little Foot needs care or whatever else are upsetting him, and am unable to judge reactions sanely. And really, going around asking "Are you mad at me?" every time that particular anxiety demon pops up is a good way to make people mad at me ...

Okay. That's out of my head, more or less. All stuff I've said in bits, so it better not shock any relevant party. And I really should have gone to sleep when Little Foot did, alas, as I was up with her last night, but ... mrgh. Stuff in head. Gah.

Feeling a little crazy today.

10 September, 2009

Not Even The Mommy Trap

An acquaintance linked to a post about 'rescuing' a woman from the workplace in order to have her fulfil her godly-appointed role as a housewife. Or something like that. Bonus fun woman-is-a-subset-of-her-man bullshit, the whole nine yards.

The acquaintance replied to this by saying, well, if you stay home - with or without kids - I don't agree with your choice. I won't hassle you about it, but I don't agree with it.

I'm not replying. Er. I'm not replying directly, I'm passive-aggressively going and fuming about this where said acquaintance probably won't ever know it got mentioned, because I am not fucking up to dealing with this.

Because my first reaction to this has nothing to do with the housewifery, has nothing to do with the fact that I have a month-old child who needs constant care and attention, who I think is better cared for by one of her parents than by other people who we would have to pay for it (and of course that counts as real work because it's caring for other people's children, right?), has nothing to do with all that angel of the household bullshit even in vague theory.

My first reaction to this is, "Well, it's a fucking good thing I don't need your consent for my disability management, now, isn't it?"

Haven't I fumed about this sort of thing before? Why, yes, I have.

And the fact that my health management means that I'm working from home and thus available to give Little Foot the care she needs (even though I know in some cases a professional might be able to do a better job, because a professional doesn't have my mental health disability to manage in the first place) is a bonus, a somewhat precarious bonus on a rough day when I need to hand her off so I don't fracture myself, but a bonus nonetheless.

But the being here? This is me trying to keep my mind more or less in one goddamn piece.

And you know, I feel I can't talk about this shit without including a tagline about how awful it is that some people think that women need to be dragged out of work because it's Inappropriate To Womanhood to be there, and isn't that monstrous? Because I have to make the appropriately pious kowtowing to the outrage in order to point out that something is fucking ablist or ask who the hell is going to take care of Little Foot then?

I ... just ...

... the fucking fuck.

(Pardon. Profanity is the crutch of the inarticulate motherfucker.)

If I don't say anything I won't get Tone Argumented about it.

A couple of links, meanwhile:

How American Health Care Killed My Father - I'm not in agreement with all of it, but a lot of it is right up my alley, and some of the rest is stuff I hadn't thought of and might need to reevaluate on.

Lactate on your own time. Oh, for ...

19 August, 2009

The Whole Story

I have been talking, with various people, about how to deal with the subject of rape, for the last day and a half or so. (And not talking, at times, because I'm not the sort of person who's really good at untangling exactly why some arguments sound like survivor-blaming and rape apologia because I find them too upsetting to disassemble coolly.)

And one of the things that came up for me and had me wickedly shaky last night is the way that no matter how many times, how many different ways, how carefully I tell my story, I cannot tell the whole story, not in one go.

I've written about the assault here not infrequently. And each post about it has a different piece of the story - like the issues around the social construction of consent and the failures of sex education to assist in rape prevention, the effects of women's sexuality being treated socially as a form of public property, my trauma around failure at the 'gatekeeper' social role, contributions from my repressed kinkiness, normalisation of rape and lack of support, the way uncertainty and the slow erosion of boundary defenses contributed, the induced vulnerability created by the social dichotomy between attractiveness and academics, trying to come to terms with shame and internalised self-hatred around the subject, comparison of superficially similar experiences, how I had to fight for the space in which I could actually lay the responsibility for the assault at the feet of the person who did it. In other places I've laid out the facts of the events, I've written about the major kink scene my liege and I did to try to do some mental reprogramming, I've written about other things. I've probably missed a few posts about it from here, too.

None of these are the whole story. The fact that there are so many renditions, so many ways of trying to talk about the experience, so many posts, that should probably be a tip-off as to the incompleteness, the giant fucking layer cake of the experience that can only be written about one pink-icinged stripe at a time.

I can't even think about it all at once, see all the layers. At least not yet; I wonder some if that's why I keep writing about it, trying to get all the angles clear so that I can grasp it as a whole.

There are so many stories in that one event.

There are all the stories about the social, societal, familial contexts that fed into what happened, that made the space in which it could happen possible, easy. And all the stories about the social, societal, familial contexts that shaped how I responded, where the damage ran, how I scarred, where, and how deeply. A few of those, I've written.

There are the stories about the events, the way things happened, and which stories those are depend on which events one wants to include.

There are the stories about the people, too.

And there are the secondary stories. Because, for example, one of the consequences of having a version of the story about him in my head - because I, unlike everyone I've told these stories to, almost knew him - is that it feeds my self-hatred and self-blame, because I can see a little bit through his eyes. And I know this, and this is why I don't often tell any of my version of his story - because it's very easy for me to slide into victim-blaming with it if I go into any depth, even though the victim is me. And even though I don't tell the story, I refer to it, I get frustrated with people who respond to my story as if he were a monster rather than an idiot kid, I gnaw at the incompleteness of things.

Someone wrote a post, talking about how there's a vision of what a rapist looks like, and it doesn't look like anyone we know, and that this isn't true.

And, for the first time I think, I wrote about who he was in response, not a name, not a referent, not treating him as an event, but the person I maybe almost knew a little. And part of that was to make that person's point a bit, to make it clear that this was ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, that my bog-standard assault narrative has a bog-standard person as the aggressor. And it's put me more in touch, mentally, with him as a person than I have been in a while, which leaves me shaky and uncertain.

He was a perfectly ordinary geeky, arty high school kid. A little on the tall side, with what gets called an athletic build; light brown hair, long enough to ruffle without actually being long and not that I ever ruffled it (that being a contact more intimate and affectionate than I was comfortable with), jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing type, like any other ordinary high school kid. I met him through one of my classmates, and he may never have known that I was technically not old enough for high school, let alone not a junior like that friend.

He did drama club at his high school, and I went to see him perform. He listened to Peter Gabriel. He lent me the Wild Cards books one at a time. He had a computer in his room at his parents' house, an old clunky thing with a green screen, and played Ultima on it. He quoted Monty Python, at length, on a frozen day outside the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, a day when it was windy enough to make the seagulls fly backwards. ("Albatross!") I remember nothing about what we talked about on the phone, and only one movie we went to (The Cutting Edge).

He was the sort of person that people I know would know, would spend time with, would never wonder about.

He was the first attractive, potentially compatible person who had ever shown interest in me; my experience of romance was all of the junior high variety, full of blatant abusiveness and harassment, and I was an awkward, nerdy kid unfamiliar with the vagaries of proper social interaction. He said I was beautiful, not that I really believed him; he said that he loved me, after a while. I had no idea how to deal with him, because in among all of this unexpected, unfamiliar, loneliness-curing kindness was the persistent ignoring of consent, pushing at boundaries whose precise location I did not, at that point, know, up until he hit the boundaries around sex, where I at least knew that I didn't want to go there.

When he let me escape after the assault, I fled to the bathroom to try to put my mind in order. When I came back out, he was fully clothed, sitting on the couch that he had tried to pin me to, and even in my pained dissociation I thought he had realised what he had nearly done, realised and was now ashamed. Maybe even wondering how he had read me wrong, maybe - and this would be good - wondering how long he had been misreading me, whether it went back to the beginning. There was sadness and silence there, and I did not ask what it was; he had never asked me what was in my head, and asking what was in his was too intimate even if I had not been shaking and shattered inside. He walked me back to the subway so I could go home.

It was probably the next weekend or the one after that he went to the second day of a Star Trek convention with me, which I left early, claiming headache, not saying that it was terrifying to be near him and I was bleeding inside. We never spoke again after that day.

I saw him, or someone who looked like him, in a bookstore a few years later. I had a panic attack and fled to the company of my mother at a cafe, sitting by the escalator he might have come down if he were leaving that way, and I watched the stairs moved in a panic.

When my lion and I went to see the Stargate movie in the theater a few years later, I was so triggered by the looks of James Spader that I could not really bear to watch any of it. I buried myself in other-things, and we laughed about the things we had done in movie theaters in the dark, without ever shedding light into that particular bit of darkness.

16 August, 2009

You Pays Your Money, You Takes Your Chance

I hate health insurance.

See, here's the thing. The idea behind insurance, right? Normal insurance? "We pay in in case something awful happens to someone who paid in, and what we've got here will cover helping out the unfortunate." It's gambling, paying in in case of theft, of fire, of flood, of whatever, but we don't expect to have these things happen, precisely, we just know they might.

And that's why I hate health insurance.

Before you start, you lose the bet.

You're gonna get sick.

Putting in money in case you get sick? Is, straight up, lost money. Because there is no "Maybe I won't get sick" like "Maybe I won't get robbed" or "Maybe my house won't burn down". That's resources lost, pfft. You'll get sick, or injured, or whatever else. Eventually. Unless you're hit by a truck tomorrow and die instantly, of course, in which case the insurance company will be really happy with you for being their ideal customer.

And because you will inevitably have need of health care, the thing where everyone's putting a little bit in as a bet against the chance that they're robbed/burned down/flooded out so the few who actually do wind up in need have enough resources to recover doesn't work so well. Everyone will be pulling something out sometime, so there's no chance for the pot to build up enough to take care of everyone's needs (unless, of course, we're spending exorbitant amounts).

And so the game goes like this: we pay money in, sunk cost, and when we need the money out, it's in the best interest of the insurance people to not pay that out (less money for them and, for that matter, for everyone else), so we get surcharges, pre-existing conditions, caps on how much medication we can take or how much care we can get even when we need it, all designed to keep the money drained out of us. So now we're down the money and we don't get the care.

So people try to 'economise'. Some go without insurance and pray that the major illness doesn't happen to them just yet. Some skip preventative healthcare (that would increase the odds of catching those major illnesses early) to keep the resources for catastrophic situations. Some have to decide which of their conditions will get treatment.

And people get stuck in awful places, because the whole system is set up to feed this goddamn protection racket. Trapped in a bad job but can't afford to quit because that would lead to 'losing health insurance'. Unable to get insurance and stuck managing serious illnesses out of pocket. Making major life decisions based on whether or not health care access will be possible, because we can't afford the risk - or have people depending on us who aren't 'risks' but 'actualities'.

And I hear rhetoric about how we don't want bureaucrats between us and our health care as a reason to ... make sure we have insurance companies available to kneecap us, rather than some sort of system that makes sure that basic care is available to people in general.

Pony up your blind. Shuffle up and deal!

Oh look, I got a two-seven unsuited. Again.

14 August, 2009

Grab Bag

I don't have the time or the brain to write up anything particularly brilliant, so I'm just going to throw out miscellaneous notes in no particular order.

Giving birth has corrected my pregnancy-induced gender dysphoria, which is a tremendous relief. Even the fact that Little Foot is, thus far, exclusively breastfed off my personal boobs does not ping me as being Axiomatically Wrong the way late pregnancy did - I might even go so far to say it doesn't ping at all, but given how awful I was feeling towards the end there I don't know if I have valid space for comparison. I'm not back to previous levels of mostly-able-bodiedness by a long shot -- a four-block round trip walk in the heat ( says 84F!/87 with heat index - that's 30 for you centigrade folks) completely flattened me earlier, my bad hip seizes up in horrifying ways every so often, and I still have stitches in my chassis -- but my body feels more or less like my body again, not this alien lumpy thing that I'm only existing in because I'm stuck there.

Labor and afterwards generalised childcare have convinced me that I need to buy a box of bendy straws to stash under my shrine to Neb.y Set (which is where I keep the rope and other such things stashed), for circumstances in which I might not be able to use my hands when drinking or am stuck in a position in which easy drinking is more complicated. Things one does not expect to learn from newborn care!

I love having the whole family in the same house, even if it's a little crowded and stressy-because-of-people-being-displaced. It's just ... yeah. A good thing. I know it's only temporary, while we're adjusting to Little Foot being no longer wodged into my innards and all, but it's a fantastic thing while it lasts, and I'm enjoying it greatly.

Little Foot herself is doing well. She's regained her birth weight, the pediatrician thinks she's doing great, she's sleeping well, eating well (ow), and generally being professionally adorable. The lion's parents are visiting us now, and they are appropriately smitten. All things are good. At least at the moment, 'cos she's asleep. ;)

A few links:

"How I Lost My Health Insurance at the Hairstylist's" is one of those punch-in-gut stories, and makes me even more enraged by the fact that the public debate has become "How do we get people health insurance" rather than "How do we get people health care". I wrote a ranty, impassioned letter to the White House about it. Gods know if it'll make any difference. But damnit.

"The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck" is not an expression of my own experience, but it's an expression that needs to be heard. And, as pointed out over and over in the comments, it is an expression of my experience -- just in different adjective combinatorics. The rules are the same.

"An Open Letter to John C. Wright", meanwhile, is a lovely bit of response to a truly obnoxious homophobe. It is cheering, and also funny, and I think I need to buy one of this man's books because he deserves to have money aimed in his direction, so I have added that to my to-do list for books.

05 August, 2009

Enter Little Foot

WARNING: The following post contains descriptions of a reasonably difficult labor and delivery. If this is liable to distress you, just scroll down to the photo. ;)

The contractions started at midnight on 31 July, but were spaced out at an hour and a half or two apart, fairly dull. In fact, early labor is pretty much entirely boring, as far as I can tell; just this sort of anticipatory waiting punctuated with the occasional contraction. I called my parents to chat, thereby weirding out my father. ("I don't think I've ever had a phone conversation with someone in labor before. I'm sure they happen, like, in the movies, but generally with the father, not the grandfather..." "Star Trek!" "RIGHT! Star Trek! ...still the father.")

Midwife arrived at about 1am on the first of August, after a day I'd spent feeling kind of at loose ends, really. I believe I was in the birth pool when she got there, I seem to remember floating there and hearing her voice say, "Yep, looks like labor." Various things happened over time. Mostly I tried to rest between contractions, though I got increasingly irritable by little things. (Like, "Do you want some [insert foodstuff here]?" "No." A little later. "Do you want some [different foodstuff]." "No." A little later. "Do you want some [food of some sort]?" "I WANT PEOPLE TO STOP ASKING ME!")

I didn't feel like labor was actually going anywhere. The midwife said I was doing fine, that things were progressing well. I was getting tired, mostly, and aggravated, and frustrated, and finally we did an inspection to see how dilated I was, and the water broke. Which was a fascinating sensation....

Contractions got worse. Working theory is this thing called "back labor", generally caused by the baby position being unideal in a way that approximates agonising. This was not helped by the fact that, like my mother, I do not have normal-duration contractions (something like two minutes); mine ran to 4-5 minutes straight. And there was Stuff (subtype: green) in the waters. We first decided that the Stuff was not a risk to the baby, and then, a while later, found fresh meconium - perhaps caused by the stress of the long contractions.

After some discussion, discretion was declared the better part of valor, and we packed up and went to the hospital. There was ... mild drama, that I fortunately found out later; the hospital didn't want us. They spent a while trying to convince us that another hospital was closer than they were, but eventually relented before the information that our chosen pediatrician was on their staff.

How much of this has to do with an idiot midwife who only transports to hospital when things have already gone to hell in a handbasket and has afflicted that particular hospital twice (as opposed to what we did, which was say, "Hm, that looks like a handbasket; let's avoid it with caution") and how much has to do with local politics regarding midwifery I do not know; I suspect a fascinating combination of things.

Anyway, it was for the best that I was unaware that my condition and my child's health had been treated like some kind of hot potato as I limped up to Labor and Delivery; I might have killed something during a surge.

There was initial friction with the OB - he was hostile to our midwife coming in (see above paragraph) up until he sorted out that we had transferred as a precaution, not because I was about to detonate or something, and got a look at my prenatal medical records and saw that they were, in fact, competent. And that we weren't going to refuse all interventions like the filthy hippies we were, or something. I curled up on my side and listened to him talk with my lion (formerly referred to as legalhusband). Paperwork was wrangled. Every so often someone wanted me to lie on my back, which I find uncomfortable at the best of times, and which at that particular time was roughly like being drawn and quartered.

They put monitors on me, which I disliked, but wasn't really up for arguing about, and it didn't matter, I wasn't going anywhere. They put an IV in me, which I also disliked - I hate the damn things, though it was less bad than the one when I got my CAT scan, it just left my hand feeling bruised all to hell - but that enabled me to get some fucking painkillers, which at least removed me from the state of "Kill me now and extract the baby from my steaming corpse."

Forty hours of back labor are disrecommended, by the way. Which is about where I was by that time. Exhausting, unproductive, discouraging, and it fucking hurts.

After that, I floated on some narcotics, half-listening to paperwork wrangles and family support, waking up for only the most intense contractions and snarling for assistance getting through them, for about two and a half hours, at which point I was nearly fully dilated. They wanted me to hold back on pushing for a bit, and taught me some breath techniques for that, which were hard to focus on but manageable, more or less. Somewhere in there I got a second dose of the painkiller, and vehemently refused an epidural. (I was not allowed to sign a health care proxy giving medical decision-making power to the whole family because I was stoned, but I could consent to an epidural while stoned. I don't know, man, I didn't do it. I can sort of see the sense in it, but at the same time, if I'm not competent to consent, I'm not competent to fucking consent.)

After a bit, I stopped having the capacity to restrain my reactions to the surges, and we worked out a position for the actual labory bit, with the advice of the nurse on duty.

And my liege held me cradled against his shoulder, and my lion supported my leg so that I could work and helped me when my hip siezed every so often. And going through the experience between my husbands, held, supported, ... now, okay, I've hit the moodswingy bit of post-partum here, but it makes me all weepy, okay?

The doctor had mellowed out a bit and at one point said, "I see green hair!" Apparently the rest of the family chorused "It's a Muppet!" whereas I, on the floaty strange space of the labor, just driftingly thought, "Probably just more stained mucus" and carried right along with what I was doing.

Tearing during labor is like lines of fire. And nowhere near as horrifyingly squicky as being cut would have been.

I had to hold for an infinite while while they cleared air passages, and then there was a little more, and then the release, and another rush of fluid, and there was the other side. It was a strange, spent, empty space on the other side.

People were talking, bustle, I was following half-threads of conversation, bits and pieces. Eight pounds, fifteen ounces. I had two tears, a small one and a moderate one (I presume it wasn't huge, there was no drama about it, just a "... not so small..." sort of flavor). I needed to lie on my back, could I do that? It didn't hurt horribly. I could do it.

My liege was on my left. He had knelt for most of the seriously active part of labor, to hold me, and his knees were wrecked. My lion was on my right, stroking me when he could, when he wasn't needed to answer questions, or taking a few photos. The OB sprayed something almost hot on me, and started to stitch me up.

(Turns out lidocaine isn't effective on me for more than a couple of minutes. They sprayed me with it three times.)

They put pitocin in the drip to make me pass the placenta faster so they could do the stitches properly without the cord in the way. I barely noticed, still in the dreamspace of post-labor, still there. I had wanted to let the placenta empty its blood supply into the baby, and there was a part of me that was angry and frustrated at that failure, a distant, shouting, too-tired-to-speak part.

I wanted to hold her.

Eventually I could, hold her, hold her with all the agitated medical mess done with, feeling the flow of everything around me. Feeling in love with the universe, with my daughter, with my mates. Her skin was soft against my skin.

Do not offend the baby. She can kill you with her mind. See?