Saturday, March 19, 2011

What a Tiger Mom Really Does

I meant to enter a writing contest this week. I often mean to enter writing contests, and then somehow manage not to track the deadline or make time/space to do the drafting/revising/editing and then pretend to be surprised when the deadline passes. 

This particular topic was near and dear to my heart. I don't even remember what the prize was (national publication + cash, I think); I just know that the topic was something I feel very strongly about, and that I can speak to. 

The question was, 'How have I changed motherhood, or how has motherhood changed me." And here is my answer: 

I can see now that I was never the wilting flower I thought I was. However, growing up - even while the rest of the world saw me as a gregarious, bold and outgoing leader in training, I saw only the girl who would avoid conflict at all costs and who would say or do whatever she thought she needed to say or do to have people like or at least accept her.

And then I became a mom. I don't know what hormonal or evolutionary switch was flipped, but I knew from the moment my son first cried at someone else's touch that I would tear someone apart rather than let him be hurt. 

I was the original Tiger Mom. Not the nasty, underhanded Tiger of golf. Not the over-bearing, domineering author of parenting how-to books. And certainly not imbued with a certain celebrity's ridiculous conception of tiger blood. I was the Tiger Mom whose eyes burned bright at the thought of my sons being threatened, and whose sharp claws were ever ready to protect them from whatever physical and emotional threats I could see. 

I had no idea how powerful I am before I became a mom. And I had no idea how strong I would need to be. I've battled doctors, teachers, other children. Yet the hardest of all has been battling my sons themselves when they became their own worst enemies. Those are the hardest battles. The battles when I want to just wrap my sons in my arms and hold them close, but instead I am baring my teeth to keep them from imminent danger.

They don’t tell you, in prenatal classes, that no matter how many baby gates and outlet covers and cupboard latches you buy, there will still be dangers. Dangers more insidious than electricity and longer lasting than falling down the stairs. Nobody warns you that sometimes you won’t see the danger until it’s almost too late, and then you’ll have to move at top speed and use every defensive and offensive option at your disposal to keep them safe.

Unjust teachers were easily converted. Doctors with deaf ears quickly had them opened. But nothing prepared me for keeping my sons safe when they were the ones who were hurting themselves, or for what it would take to fight my own instinct to just keep them happy with me and pretend everything was okay when all evidence pointed to a snake in the nursery.

Perhaps it’s not accurate to say that being a mother has changed me. But it has undeniably changed how I see myself. I am gregarious, bold and the leader that teachers and friends have generally seen in me. I am also the sometimes scared wall flower who just wants to be loved and accepted. But underneath either of those options – more base and raw and instinctual, I am the tiger mom who paces in the dark searching for hidden dangers. Who stands between her sons and the most immediate dangers. And who sometimes, when they’ll let me, picks them up by the scruff of the neck and pulls them back to the den to test their own mettle another day.

People used to laugh and call me a Tiger Mom. So be it – if my flashing eyes and tenacious roars mean that my sons get one piece of support, one opportunity or one easy, happy  moment they wouldn’t have otherwise, then Tiger Mom is a label I will wear with pride. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a touchstone of flesh

I have a shameful confession ... I kind of hate my body. Still. I know I'm not supposed to, and lots of times I don't - I'm sometimes quite proud of myself. I mean, I weigh not much more than I did when I graduated high school. Less than I did when, at the ripe old age of 20, I walked down the aisle. Considerably less than my nemesis for decades - the deuce. I am buying clothes two sizes smaller than I did a year ago. Dresses with built in waists and princess seams and curves and dangerous corners. I am buying shoes a size smaller - less weight means less foot spread. And also less foot fat. As I've mentioned, my Calvin Kleins, clung to for a decade while I yearned for them to fit again, have been released, the saggy ass and baggy thighs proof of some win ... a win that seems remote tonight. 

But, there are moments when I rest my hand against a certain body part, or bend a certain way, or when Sweetness holds me that I cringe and want to pull away. To change something. Sad desperate times when I hope fervently that he doesn't notice the unexpected fold, the softness where I ought to be firm or the lumps where I ought to be smooth. I know he notices more my attitude. That he wishes I felt about my body as he does. And that my attitude is more of a turn off to him than my body is. I wish I could see myself as he does.  

Even more discouraging though is that I don't believe, any more, that losing those last 15 pounds is going to make any difference and I've lost my motivation to keep trying. I don't want to step on the scale tomorrow morning for my Tuesday weigh in - a steady part of my routine since October - because I know that no matter what the number says, I'll still only see my scarred and sagging belly, my matron arms, and my bumpy pasty thighs. I'm 43 ... surely I need to be realistic that my body has seen it's best days and I was too foolish to notice them. 

Talking to my auntie this weekend, I raved about the joy of having discovered, of late, my collarbones. And the finer structures of my ankles. And that little lump of bone on the outsides of my wrists. Of having been delighted by a body whose bits and pieces I have trouble recognizing as me.

Maybe I need something to remind me of that. A small tattoo, perhaps, on my wrist that reminds me of a land that used to be hidden. A talisman that pulls me back from what's wrong and gets me present to the so-very-much that is right these days. 
I want to promise that I'll stop feeling this way. That I'll stop hating my stomach. That I'll accept and even celebrate the body I have created now. And that I'll believe Sweetness when he tells me what he sees when he looks at me - for his sake, if not for my own. I want to promise all that. I just don't know that that's a promise I can keep.

PS - My friend the UberCoach just sent me this image ... she makes me smile. :) 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

'Real' men

Yes, it's been a while. February 2011 was not a month that lent itself to blogging. It's important to me not to blog about superficial matters, and at the same time some things are too deep, too personal and too important to be blogged. February is done now. In all it's hell and glory. It's done. Moving on ... 

PS - Watch out for the turtles
This morning I read an editorial in Monday Magazine - it's both a heartfelt challenge to men to 'be men' and a lament for those who bastardize what that means. It's a great piece. Even as I respond though, to what is an articulate and genuine insight, I struggle for words. So much of our culture calls for a 'man' to be a muscled, emotionless half human that even calling for men to be 'real men' - which to me means something very different than that - is terribly fraught. 

I've been very blessed in my life to have men who expressed the fullest possible meaning of the word. My dad and grandpa and uncles worked with tools and with words. They were and are men of faith and of action. They could wrap their arms around their wives and children, but also cry and show hurt in their own 'manly' ways. They are creative and practical. They are, in a word, integrated. Human first, man as a subset of that. 

And they set a standard that I've hoped somehow to impart to my sons. I've hoped that - despite just being their mom - my sons would learn to be themselves first, and some external definition of man only by accident. And I've held that standard up to measure the men I've invited into my life. It's not a conscious standard - not a checklist or definition. But an ingrained understanding of what a 'good man' is. Imperfect and learning. Leading and listening. Light and strong. As the editorial suggests, 
We’ve forgotten how the simple act of being a decent, caring human being is what truly makes a man.
Thankfully, many men haven't forgotten. And, the truth is a similar conversation for what it means to be a woman. The polarizing popular options suggest that a 'real' woman is a pampered princess who lives off the sweat of a 'real man's' brow, spends her days thinking of nothing but fashion and preserving her one asset - her looks - or that a 'real' woman is a ball-busting superwoman who needs no one to support her as she blazes through the business world, raises the perfect hot-house children, and takes care of herself ONLY because she's worth it, damnit, and supposedly not because she gives a silent fart about anyone else's opinion. 

I am not either of those. Yes, I like pedicures and pretty dresses. I also like camping and my tool box and things that go fast. I like that I sometimes turn heads. And I like that I can form an articulate argument. I like when my boyfriend opens the door for me. And when he lets me pay the bill.

Yes, life has repeatedly proven to me that I am strong and capable and can weather a sometimes frustrating array of storms. Everytime I think I've reached my breaking point, I bend some more and survive. I'm proud of everything I've accomplished, and I'm clear that I'm the one who has done it. And there is no better feeling than being folded into my sweetheart's arms. 

I don't for a minute believe that I'm better off on my own ... spending time with a decent, caring, human manly man makes it easier for me to be a decent, caring human womanly woman. And I'm grateful to the editorial for the reminder of just how many amazing men I have in my life. 
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