Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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It’s that hateful question every child is asked by some grinning old person who means well but has no real idea of the strain they are placing on a young mind. What do you want to be is basically who do you want to be crammed into one sentence that most of us won’t even answer in a life time. We will do many things, be many things, our personalities will shift with our mood like desert sands and we will be and do more and less than we ever knew we could. 

I remember my son’s kindergarten graduation. He was told to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up and this one question put him into such a tailspin of existential dread that he actually became depressed. How could he even hope to know? He was five. We talked about all the lives one person could live in one lifetime and how it was common to change jobs and careers many times as the years passed. In the end he decided he would tell his teacher he wanted to be a stay at home dad and I applauded his decision to think outside the box while coming up with an answer for his kindergarten graduation.

My son is a really good person with a really good heart and he has broken out of every box he has ever been faced with. I don’t think there is a box that can hold him. He’s been thinking outside the box for so long that he’s free in a way few of us will be. That’s why I was confused when he got up on stage after the last twenty five kids had declared their intention of becoming a veterinarian all because the kid before them said that, and stated in a loud voice that when he grew up he wanted to be an underwater treasure hunter. I had never heard that from him. Water had always frightened him and money has never meant a thing. He’s not one of those kids that will read a book for five dollars or clean his room for ten so why the change?

The answer of course is adults. He denied ever saying he wanted to be a stay at home dad, that he’d mentioned it at home but not at school. He’d chosen the safe bet, the manly bet, and the principle came up to me afterwards beaming because he was the only kindergartner who had stuck to his career goal. No he was not a sheep who blurted veterinarian, but he had not been honest, not been himself.

It’s funny how much this little moment has bothered me. It was 13 years ago and yet I still struggle with what happened to his inner authenticity. Had he told them he wanted to be a stay at home dad? And had they reacted the same way they had when he took off his shoes and showed off his blue nail polish? He was five. I had been painting my nails and looked up to see him painting his. I smiled and said, “Nice.” The teacher asked me, “Did you do that? Did you paint his nails?” No I hadn’t, he had, and everyone but me was weirdly upset.

I hate how we treat boys. Honestly I hate how we treat girls too. Society sucks and its patriarchal indoctrination is dehumanizing for both the sexes. We lost two boys in junior high because they didn’t fit into the roles society set for them. They died because of roles. I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t remember their faces. I guess what I want to say here is please don’t ever ask a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead maybe ask, “What is the thing that makes you most excited in life?” For my son that was theater and I pray it still is. For my friends daughter, that’s making TickTock dance videos. There are a thousand ways to live on this earth and there are no roles that need to be filled. A boy can be a stay at home dad, a girl can be a detective, I can be a unicorn and hide in my micro studio reaching out to people through WordPress. Be weird, be wild, be tame, be a fruit bat. None of it matters as long as deep down that being is what makes you sparkle.

It’s OK to paint your nails boys. Ladies, shaved heads are sexy. God, please forgive role enforcers who tell children it’s not OK to be who they are. And God forgive the person who told my two friends that Gay wasn’t okay. It was, it is, it always will be. I wished they had lived to see how much the world has changed.

I love you. I’m crying again. We’ve got this. Soldier on my compatriots and do it with sequins.

The Art of Loving Longest

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I’ve been crying all day so if this whole thing is miss spelled and littered with poor grammar it’s because I’m blind and tired and don’t care so please don’t comment on how I could do better. I’m alive and I honestly can’t do better than that. My therapist outlined today the effects of actions taken and the feelings felt by my son, and it broke me. The reality that in saving myself I had had to hurt someone I love is a pain I hope none of you ever feel. I loved my family but it was plainly toxic and the pain of staying coupled with the reality that I wasn’t wanted on any level only pushed me further away. I pray for forgiveness; I pray to be able to forgive. I walk in the spirit of contrition and beg angels bless my loved ones and help them find rest. I beg to have my grief lightened, I pray for a clean soul, and a heart as light as Anubis’s feather.

Over and over again I hear Miss Celie, from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, yell, “Dear God, I’m here! I’m here!” and all I can say is yes, I’m still here. Thank you God, for stilling the pain, even if just for a moment. Thank you God, for drying my tears, even if only for a day. Thank you God, for helping me see my son grow up, even if only to lose him in a situation I don’t think I will ever fully understand. Our ways have parted and you are grown and no matter what I may wish, I don’t know that I’ll see you again, but thank you over and over for the years of love.

I want to tell you that rebirth is beautiful, that loss and grief have an end, that the pain of isolation and loneliness find there conclusion, but if I said that I would be a liar. The few things I know about myself are that I am honest, that I am faithful even after my trust has been tested a thousand times, that I love deeply and completely and forever. I love my family, I love each and every one of them and even if we never touch eyes upon one another again, I will not stop loving you. So, live your lives, be beautiful, laugh, play and know that you are loved beyond measure. This is the art of loving, as Ann Elliot from Jane Austen’s Persuasion says, “All the privilege I claim for my sex is that of loving longest, when all existence or when hope is gone.”

I am resigned, I have surrendered, I have cast hope on the fire and accepted my place as no place at all. I may be invisible, beyond that age of notice or redemption, but my heart is full of love and its light alone guides me. For even though I love you, I love me as well. This is the year of living bravely, of letting go, of choosing me. In choosing to live a life I could respect, the son I love was hurt. But even in this pain and isolation I now live in I am not betrayed but am instead whole in a way I have never before known because again, I have chosen me.

Go with God. Sometimes the innocent get hurt. Living with betrayal is not an option. Self respect is not selfish.

Shunning: Psychological Torture

Unmarried mothers were shunned and left to fend for themselves
Recently I read an article reporting that between 1925 and 1961, 796 children were placed in a mass grave in one of Ireland’s Catholic run, Mothers and Babies Homes. The article stated that the mothers received little care and some women even gave birth unattended. Why were they so mistreated? Because they were seen as “a threat to Ireland’s moral fiber.” These children were the victims of an outdated morality that would rather shun its unwed mothers than support and love them as valued members of their community. The Mother and Baby home closed its doors and sealed its mass grave (a sewage tank buried on the grounds) in 1961.

In 1991, a Catholic girl at my high school had an abortion so her parents would never know she’d had sex. The 90’s were a sophisticated modern decade. We had free choice, free will and the right to make all the mistakes we wanted. Casual sex was the norm and most everyone I knew was going at it like rabbits. And yet, this girl chose to have an abortion because if her parents knew she’d had sex and conceived she would have been shunned, outcast and disowned. Her abortion was not a choice made in free will, it was a decision born of fear, the fear of being outcast, shunned and forsaken by the people who should have loved and supported her no matter what.

Everyone passed the hat to help raise the abortion money. Everyone contributed to the death of this “embryo.” Everyone participated in this act so that a girl could keep her family. No one asked if she wanted the baby? No one asked if she even thought of it as a child growing inside her? I remember how sick the whole event made me. I stood back, watched and wondered what kind of parents raised a child in such fear that she’d rather commit murder then admit to having a sex life, disorganized as it was.
mother and child

Over the millennia, billions of woman have been cast off, incarcerated and killed for moral reasons while their children have been aborted, cast out, hidden away, called basters and abused because no man stepped forward to claim them. Shunning is an atrocity. It’s a manyfold evil that leads to heartbreak, legalized acts of murder and a shame that taints our history and threatens our future.

If all life is sacred and we are the children of an all loving God than why do situations like this ever even occur? I try to forget this memory, this time in my life. I would like to put it on the shelf with all the other outrages and deaths that ran like a red thread through my early existence yet this death refused to stay buried. It welled up inside of me, rattling its cage because of the unconscionable cruelty that created it. Conditional love was the killer and this girl and her unborn child were its victims. Be good or you’ll end up on the streets, be clean or we’ll disown you, remain pure or everything you know and love will be taken from you.

Injustice should never be forgotten and like the mass graves that hold 796 Irish children, this memory will not be buried because conditional love is an evil that has no place in this world. When we practice unconditional love, acts like these don’t exist! Unconditional love does not reject, instead it accepts. It does not shun but gathers its loved ones together because unconditional love creates a community so strong, so entwined in love and acceptance that when the unplanned, or unexpected occurs it reacts with compassion, acceptance and a coming together that reflects what community was meant to be. In a loving and open community there’s room for the unexpected surprises life hands us.

Stories like the mass Irish grave and the girl in my high school remind us why shunning is such a devastating and horrific act. When you practice shame and exile, you abandon both the mother and child to the mercy of the streets or institutional care. We must, as forward thinking people, support the women and children of our community so tragedies like this never happen again. We must gather around new life and love it for coming instead of condemning its existence. After all, if we are all part of a divine plan than surly every life is divinely created, divinely loved and must therefore be unconditionally loved and protected. My prayers go out to all the souls who suffered and died in shame and isolation. Each loss is a failure to teach the beauty of unconditional love and unconditional support in community.
pregnant belly

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