On Understanding

One of my and Michael’s friends, Andrew, also has Cerebral Palsy. Both Michael and Andrew speak differently because of CP. However, this does not mean that they can understand each other; in fact, while I understand Michael perfectly fine, and while Andrew’s wife Carrie understands him perfectly fine, and I understand Andrew pretty well and Carrie understands Michael pretty well, Andrew and Michael sometimes have hard time understanding each other, as Andrew (a stand-up comedian and screenwriter) pointed out to me so refreshingly a few years ago.

Which is pretty fabulous, when you ponder it, and true on so many levels.

Such as:

You are not just one more student or dropout or kid or teenager or patient or old person or parent or teacher or tourist or homeless person or voter or insomniac or pedestrian or shopper or photobomber or billboard sign reader or tooth brusher or restaurant patron or general cluster of cellular activity. You are, in fact, quite uniquely each of those things that you are; no one else brushes their teeth or photobombs their friend’s selfies quite like you do.

And—just as Michael and I can communicate more freely than Michael and Andrew, so I find I can often connect with those who are of a different religion or heritage as well or better than those more like myself. Such as how I can connect with Michael, the ever optimist, more than I can connect with others who tend to be cynical the way I sometimes am.

And—every once in awhile, I don’t understand Michael, and when I talk too quietly, he doesn’t understand me. But we love each other, and I know that Michael and Andrew love and respect and admire each other as well. And, of course, you know that your parents did not understand the fascination you might have had with chewing on twigs when you were five years old. (Um, let me clear my throat for a moment). But they loved you.

And—just like others can love you even when they don’t understand you, you can connect with others you don’t understand. If you don’t understand someone’s words, you can connect over attentiveness or shared experience or social media or deep mutual respect. If you don’t understand someone’s lifestyle or choices, you can connect with them by looking for commonality or by understanding that you have a different background and different life experience, and simply appreciating them for the valuable person they are.

And I’m pretty sure I haven’t even scratched the surface—so much good in the fact of two friends who can’t always understand what the other is saying.

Birth Essay up on Her View From Home

I’m really excited to have an essay I wrote, This is What it’s Like To Have a C-section, up on Her View From Home. A fellow writer, Lani had read it and suggested I submit, which I really appreciate because I had thought it was just a simple birth story.

My second C-section was different in some ways, but both were tender and vulnerable experiences. ❤

Camping will solve all of your problems

Are you overwhelmed with mess? Wondering what the purpose of life is? Generally irritated at the world around you? Camping will effectively bring you purpose, let you have space from the world, and eliminate the messes created in your house or apartment for the duration you spend away. This tactic is actually quite compatible with children, at least as long as you…

  1. Camp in an area that is not infested by racoons
  2. Camp in an area that is not surrounded by a raging river/cliff drop-offs/mountain lions/virus carrying mosquitos
  3. Camp in an area that is within a few minutes of a grocery store and at least one fast food restaurant
  4. Have extendable arms
  5. Have more than two arms
  6. Have a magically appearing stock of sippy cups and clean water and goldfish and cheese sticks and veggie straws.

If you are interested in this approach to getting a new start to life and you own a home, you may want to consider buying a pet racoon. This nocturnal omnivore will eat through your various doors and walls and eventually require the demolition of your home. However, as you will still own the plot of land, you will be left with a very clean lot of dirt, with which to set up a spare, minimalist arrangement, perhaps with the aid of a tent. If you don’t own a home, you may want to forego causing any damage to your immediate building, as this will only leave you truly homeless and in debt, for you will have neither roof nor place for belongings nor–and this is the important part–a piece of land to easily camp on. However, with some preparation, you can notify friends or family of your camping intentions and spend increasing lengths of time camping in back or front yards. Suddenly, your clutter problems will be over and you will have the mental space to focus on the now, prioritizing the pressing need to keep you and your children fed and clothed and at a sustainable body temperature.  

New family pet included.

Virtue Signaling and Tokenism

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about virtue signaling and tokenism.

As a white person, much of what I can say about race is almost necessarily virtue signaling or apparent tokenism. Even saying something like “Racism is horrible but I’ve been a racist” functions as a kind of woke signal.

I have come to feel that a) everything I can do falls or appears to fall into one of these categories in some way and b) trying too hard *not* to fall into these categories is almost worse than falling into them….because that comes back to not wanting to be construed a certain way. The problem with tokenizing is that it’s a way of wanting to appear non-racist. The problem with virtue signaling is that it, too, is wanting to appear non-racist to the outside world. So, the problem with trying too hard not to tokenize or virtue signal, as I see it, is also…not wanting to appear to be superficial or a “fake ally” to the outside world.

The fact is that social media and blogging are, by definition, public (or at least semi-public) displays. That is just what they are. Nothing makes its way onto your feed if you didn’t put it there with the intent that it be seen.

That is the power and problem with social media.

The problem side is, to a degree, pretty inherent to the medium. Any “good deed” or woke thought you post for the world to see is a kind of virtue signaling. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the whole point. Our sense of virtue can be influenced by the people we love or admire, so it can be valuable to come out publicly with some indication of our values.

Tokenizing could probably be seen as a specific way to virtue signal. That’s where you include or represent someone who is black or LGBTQ or fat or a woman or disabled just to show that you care about those minority groups…or rather, that you want to be seen as caring about them.

Personally, I think that representation and visibility are almost as important for our world and society as anything else. Real visibility brings love and pulls down barriers. Respectful and meaningful visibility opens communication lines. Visibility and representation can cut across party lines and ideologies and change hearts.Which means that the kind of social media content I believe to be the most impactful will also look like tokenization.

I have not been accused of tokenization. The truth is that I don’t post enough from people with different experiences and backgrounds than I have. I post a lot about health issues and disability, because they are familiar to me and because I have a better sense of just how stigmatized living with those can be, just by virtue of my experience. I also would say I have a fair amount of experience with sexism, but I generally feel that sexism is pretty well documented and understood. I don’t feel compelled to write about it as often, at least relatively speaking.

But frankly, I think it would be better if I *did* do more things that could look like tokenism, because visibility is one of the great strengths of social media. Obviously my social media sphere is rather cozy and small, but perhaps that is a plus in its own right. I know that, as a woman and half of an interabled couple, I wouldn’t mind if people engaged in more “apparent tokenism” about women and people with disabilities or interabled couples, insofar as that means making a point of representing them in movies or books or sharing their message. I’d love to see a photo of someone sitting at a coffee shop saying, “Just enjoying Shane Burcaw’s memoir, “Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse” and a cappuccino.” I’d love to see a picture of a little boy cheering at a women’s basketball game, and the more often, the better.

I’m not saying stick minorities into roles as extras and call it a day. I am saying, (at least to myself), that there’s value in both seeking and sharing videos and books and messages created by and about people with a variety of different backgrounds, particularly those that aren’t generally featured in my media stream. I’m always happier for doing so, and I’ve found some of my favorite writers and artists while having diversity in mind.

Anyway, that’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s been on your mind too. I’m down for hearing more perspectives about it.

A Portrait of the Writer’s Husband

This is Michael.

Michael takes his son to the playground most mornings.

Michael laughs at Lizzie’s jokes and lets her interrupt his work to show him pictures she has drawn. (Lizzie sometimes feels guilty about this).

Michael, in general, does not interrupt Lizzie when she is drawing pictures or reading books or thinking deeply about what books she hasn’t read but would like to. 

Michael’s favorite meals are Chaboni yogurt, a cheese and tomato panini, or chocolate milk and quesadillas.

Michael eats the corn on the cob that Lizzie makes almost every night, even though it isn’t his favorite. 

Michael likes all of Lizzie’s Facebook posts, even though Lizzie only sees a few of Michael’s posts, and only likes the ones she understands. (Lizzie recognizes she could probably understand most of them if she tried. She feels guilty about this).

Michael doesn’t eat avocado because it makes his throat itchy and tense, but when he eats it anyway, he smiles.

Michael knows the way to In-N-Out.

Michael beats Lizzie at Scrabble every time.

Michael turns the AC on for cool air and white noise before Lizzie puts the toddler to bed.

Michael brings Lizzie lunch during class when she forgets breakfast.

Michael helps Lizzie find her glasses when they are on her head.

Michael helps Lizzie find the toddler when she forgets that she is holding him.

Michael tells Lizzie if she has a text so that she doesn’t need to own a phone, which Lizzie appreciates very much.

Michael shares his favorite yogurt with the toddler.

Michael takes out the trash.

Michael doesn’t mind that Lizzie doesn’t take out the trash, or at least he doesn’t say anything.

Michael compliments Lizzie when she does the dishes.

Michael compliments the lawn after Lizzie gives it a bad haircut with scissors. It is a very small lawn.

Michael compliments Lizzie when she gives him haircuts, and does not bring up the very bad haircut she once gave him.

Michael gives the toddler his vitamin in the morning.

Michael tells Lizzie that the toddler has already had his vitamin when the toddler asks for another before bed. 

Michael sometimes gives the toddler a chocolate sandwich in the morning.

Michael does not always tell Lizzie that he gave the toddler a chocolate sandwich in the morning. They are very small sandwiches.

Michael walks the same pace as Lizzie, which is more leisurely than average, except when Lizzie is anxious or running behind.

Michael takes many naps, but for short periods of time.

Michael likes hand massages from Lizzie.

Michael takes the toddler to the babysitter when Lizzie wants to sleep in.

Michael wakes up before the toddler, which is saying something.
Sometimes, when Lizzie does not want to get up in the morning, Michael brings her chocolate and slides it gently between her teeth.

Be like Michael.

More pictures

These days, I’ve been making a daily doodle and posting them on Facebook and Instagram. It’s more manageable and helpful (I’m finding) than trying to tackle bigger projects right now. If you want to follow, feel free, though I’ll probably post them in batches on here every once in a while 🙂 stay safe and sane!

My last first period after having a baby

I keep looking it up and I get a bit of science: your first period after having a baby may come 6-8 weeks after childbirth, or if you are nursing, may come as late as a year or later. Your first period may be especially heavy and painful, and may involve the removal of excess lining that wasn’t shed immediately after birth. Your first period after having a baby signifies the first egg released from your ovaries since having a baby, and this is important, because you need to know that you can get pregnant before your first period after having a baby.

You, meaning, the hypothetical you. Not me—we took care of that, severed the gateway between ovaries and womb. If we have more children, it will be in years ahead when our two babies are older, when I feel in good health, when our finances are stable. If we have children in the years ahead, I will not have carried them.

So I’m having this, my last first period after having a baby. I’m pulling out the old equipment—literally. I still have pads from an earlier era, and I use a menstrual cup, which I mention because I only heard about if a few years ago and I think its genius. If you have periods, look it up.

My abdomen is cramping and I am bleeding. Unlike every period I’ve had before, no egg will come out in this shedding. It is, I presume, stuck at the dead end of a Fallopian tube. 

I forgot, by the way, how messy it is, or at least how messy it would have been a couple hundred years ago, if all I had to staunch the bleeding was cloth—can you imagine? So I guess I don’t envy women of old. 

So I’m thinking about my two babies, my four year old and my just-barely-turned-one year old. How pregnancy was like spinning out on ice in the middle of my carefully planned road trip. Both times, laid up and ill for the entirety of pregnancy, and weaker afterwards for the ordeal. How sweet it was to finally have my babies, hold them. Not easy—exhausting, sleepless, difficult. Bone wearying and at times devastating, to see my babies get hurt, to see my own limitations, to fear for their safety. But sweet, and revolutionary. An atomic evolution of my deepest desires.

I would have another right now, if I didn’t know what pregnancy would do to me and my family. And if I hadn’t foreclosed the option—but I stand by the reason I did. These babies need a mom more than this mom needs more babies.

So I’m having my last first period after having a baby, and I almost want this moment to last. I almost like the familiar clingy plastic that covers the pads I unwrap. I almost love that I can expect this monthly mess for the next three decades of my life. I keep wanting this to be a special right of passage, or if not that than some kind of sad occasion. I keep looking it up online as if I will find the answers I want. I keep reminding myself I won’t get the answers online so I need to just write it out, which is why I’m here. But I missed the apex of my moment. I waited, and my period is already almost over. I didn’t expect it to pass so quickly.

On Just Mercy and the difference between racism and ableism

First, the film Just Mercy is incredible. It is really hard, and really hopeful–which is not just a cliche. The most hopeful things are always companion to the worst tragedies and wrongs.

It was a gut punch to realize that much of this took place in 1988, the year Michael was born, and that the Sheriff was never arrested and reelected sheriff, serving until 2019.

I highly recommend you watch it, and this month you can watch it for free, either at Amazon or YouTube and I believe elsewhere.

Before and since watching, I’ve been thinking about the nature of privilege, and wondering about the differences between racism and sexism or ableism.

I use the graphs to point out that privilege is not about individuals, but about group trends. Some individuals in a privileged class will have more hardship that some individuals in a vulnerable class, but there is still a demographic gap that needs attention, especially for Black people and Non-Black people of color.

Sexism and ableism are both real and can be very dangerous. Michael has had the cops called on him twice just for being with our kids when I’m not there, just because he has Cerebral Palsy (even though he is an attorney and was close to our home both times). People with disabilities are at a huge risk of being killed by police. Nearly half of all people killed by the police have a disability—more on that another day. Women are also at serious risk of a variety of violent crimes, particularly within their own households. The same goes for children and the elderly.

However, sexism and ableism do not involve the kind of public, violent societal posturing that racism or nationalism have. I think this in part because racism and nationalism are about one community or group having power over another community or group, rather than within. There will be women and disabled people in every community, and women and disabled people have naturally occurring vulnerabilities that can be easy to exploit and systemically perpetuate or amplify.

But when you are talking about an entire community of people, the uneven playing field is not naturally occurring. It may be a remnant of the past, but given a fair start, either community is not naturally less powerful than another community. This means that, as long as another community is in power and as long as *some members* of that community want to stay in relative power, there will need to be more public displays of violence.

That doesn’t have to mean violence towards everyone in the community they want to oppress; it only takes a few instances to make “examples.” Even if only a small number of black men are killed innocently and never receive justice, that sends a message.

Most white people do not want to send that message or perpetuate community differences. However, there are SOME white people who do, and until ALL white people recognize that some cops or judges or politicians want to keep racial power, there’s no way to check the inordinate power of those cops and judges and politicians. That doesn’t address every aspect of privilege or racism, and doesn’t get take into account implicit bias, but I think it is a critical part of what is going on now.

I don’t know exactly what to do with that recognition, in part because I believe the answer to that will be different for different people. But nothing else can change without that recognition.

“Reflections on Pressing Pants and My Husband’s Cerebral Palsy”

A few years back, I published an essay “Pressing Pants” in Waccamaw Journal. I’m super excited that The Mighty has picked it up, as “Reflections on Pressing Pants and My Husband’s Cerebral Palsy.

It’s one of my favorite essays, and will probably always be, even if my writerly style changes more over time. Life is a little different now that we have kids, but it’s a really sweet reminder of our dating and newly wed days.