Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why Having a Wrist Tattoo is the Best. Thing. Ever.

We grow from struggle - especially us pretentious brooding artist types - and I know this. But the getting there part is like running uphill while being chased by a shark. Well, a shark on legs. A leg shark. Those exist, I'm telling you. Don't climb any hills.

I'm happy to be coming out the other side of a rather prolonged period of shit shifts. And to commemorate the changes that have happened inside of me because of everything going on outside of me, I decided I needed a tattoo.

Like, yesterday morning.

So I went and got one in the afternoon; you know, in between dishes and groceries. Just a typical day as a suburban mom. Scrub a pan, get inked, buy a watermelon.

Oh, don't get your boxers bunched. I've been thinking about my second inking for a while now. If you've been reading me for a little bit, you know I got a tattoo in October 2012 that meant the world to me. I've been wanting to go back and get another ever since, but I take the whole "permanently etched on your pasty white skin" stuff pretty seriously. It had to mean something.

Anyway, I absolutely love it.

But the greatest thing about having a tattoo where everyone can see it? It makes everything I do significantly more badass.

No, really. Observe:

Leaning on a fencepost?
Probably tired from a long night of delinquencies.

Pretending to drive a car so you can take a picture?
No longer really lame. This could be a getaway car. You just don't know.

Fuck this tablecloth. When I set the cup back down it's not going on the coaster.
Rollin' and trollin', motherfuckers.

What? Another selfie?
Hell, no. This is a statement.
You might be initially wooed into a false sense of security by the choice of stylish clothing.
But all I need to do is flash my left wrist at you for a second and you'll be all like,
"Watch out for that chick. She breathes and shines."
Stand back, bitches.

I'm not just giving my kid a thumbs up. I'm giving him a lifestyle.

Is this a woman glueing buttons on a painting? (Don't ask. I have a plan.)
Hell no, bitches.
This is a rebel artist creating outside-of-the-box art.
She doesn't care if you get it.
She doesn't even care if you like it.
Go ahead and question her shit. She's not your corpo-sheep.
Stand back and let her work, motherfuckers.

See? Totally badass. Drive-68-in-a-60 badass. Pay-for-13-items-in-a-1-to-12-express-lane badass. Take-more-than-1-complimentary-mint badass.

I'm a whole new Maven. I also think I may be having a midlife crisis.

I knew I wanted "Breathe." on there to remind me to, well, breathe. Duh. You probably figured that out, right?

This anxious girl does better after a few deep breaths. I get a little less wall-head slammy. I act a little less like a triple-layer douche cake. Basically, I'm just a better person after receiving a larger supply of oxygen.

And "Now, shine?" Sometimes I forget that I'm a pretty great person. And when I lose my confidence, I kind of suck at being awesome. I forget I have qualities and a personality and I go hide in a corner. And nobody puts Maven in a corner. Not even Maven.

So now I have life instructions on my wrist: Calm down. Be awesome. You know, the important stuff.

We all have the capacity to shine. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we do.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

On The Other Side of Terrified

Source of all this bling: Wikipedia Commons.

There was a time after Gutsy told us she's a girl that I wished we could go back. I was terrified. What did it mean to have a transgender child? How would we know what to do? How would people treat her? Would she ever be happy?

Before seemed simpler. Less scary. We had three kids who's outsides matched their insides. We had three kids in the school system. We had an established family identity of three boys, a dad and a (stupendously awesome) mom.

I wanted to go back.

I don't feel that way anymore. It's taken nearly five months, but I've finally accepted that, while this isn't an easy road, it's actually a pretty good one. A not-so-scary one. A cool one, even. Like, have you seen all the trans* stuff in the news lately? We have arrived.

All kidding aside (for once), I'm good with where we are right now. More importantly - because, believe it or not, there are things more important than how I feel (I know!) - my daughter is good with it. So good with it.

Taking her out of school was probably the best thing we've ever done. (Please remind me of this in September. I beg you.) She's no longer afraid of what the other 500 people at school will think of her. We've created a safe place for her to transition; a cocoon, if you will. She knows the world can be critical and cruel, but she doesn't have to deal with that right now.

In her world, there is no ridicule or shame. She has enough to deal with. She has appointments and injections and blood tests and mood swings and unlearning a lot of the gender roles society insisted upon when she was younger. And on top of all of that, she still has to have time to be a kid, figure out where she's headed in life, and create some great memories along the way. These are monument tasks.

And right now, the school system was a burden and not a help, so we took it away. No regrets.

Until I have to teach physics. Then fuck my life.

I don't want to go back to where we were because I've learned not only a lot about parenting and gender and advocacy through this experience, but I'm also learning a lot about me.

I'm learning that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was.

I'm learning to re-prioritize life and put myself first.

I'm learning that I don't have the time or energy to devote to toxicity or negativity.

I'm learning that there's more to life than trying to make other people happy.

So no, I don't want to go back. I like it here where I'm not eating my feelings every day and I'm getting up early to go to the gym.

I like that I'm learning to say no, and to step away from situations that drain me.

I love the connections that have deepened as people have rallied around Gutsy, and the amazing new friendships we're forming with people we've met this year.

I love the way my daughter has started wearing shirts with a bit of glitter on them because they make her feel pretty (confidence!), or how she's getting brave enough to use the girls' washrooms when we're out.

I love watching how protective her brothers are of her, and how they have unequivocally accepted her for who she is. Those boys totally rock.

I love seeing the strength in my marriage and knowing we can weather anything together, because we've been through so much and I still think he's totally hot.

Oh, and he's nice and stuff too.

I never had the need to evaluate myself so deeply, or to spend so much time appreciating life. When Gutsy came out, I really didn't think I had it in me to give her the mass amount of support she'll require for years to come - not the way I was living, anyway. So I've had to make changes - big, bold changes - in order to be the kick ass woman I need to be. I see it not as an option, but as a job requirement with incredible benefits.

She may have very well saved my life while I've been fighting so hard to save hers. True story.

I'm not scared anymore. We're not going back, and I'm grateful for that. Forward is so much better.

And has more glitter.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I've stopped people pleasing. (Hope you don't mind.)

I was living under false pretenses. I really thought this parenting stuff was supposed to get easier when they got older. But I guess when you have three kids and one is a teenager and another is transgender and the little one has an attitude that could swallow Manhattan, you're maybe fooling yourself that diapers and blocked ducts would be the most challenging stage.

At least there was naptime back then. Now they don't sleep. They're always around, asking for things like rides and snacks and a rapid SWAT team response time hostage negotiations using me as a human shield help with settling minor sibling disagreements.

When my therapist, a friendly but take-no-bullshit kind of woman who is quite amazing, asked me how I was feeling a few days ago, I told her that I'm just on this side of OK. What that means is that I'm managing, but little stressors send me over the anxiety cliff in no time flat. Extra commitments send me over the cliff, too. Oh, and trying to make sure everybody in my life is happy.

"Wait. Hold up. What was that last part?" my therapist asked in a way I might be paraphrasing.

"Oh, you know. Family, friends, clients, teachers... Everybody wants a piece of me. Trying to manage it all is a full-time job in itself."

 "Why are you trying to make everyone happy?" she asked, and gave me that look. If you've been in therapy, you know that look. (And if you haven't been in therapy and you get enjoyment from reading my blog, you're definitely dysfunctional and - good news - I can recommend a good therapist.)

I hesitated. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks that just hit somebody: I'm a people pleaser. A hardcore, unabashed people pleaser. And that's not good. Well, it is for everyone else, but it's not for me. I'm that nice person who will do anything for you. "Maven? She's so nice. And she has great hair, but that is totally secondary to all the niceness going on."

According to Psychology Today, people who go over the top to please others do so because "the intense need to please and care for others is deeply rooted in either a fear of rejection and/or fear of failure."

Well, go figure. I'm an expert at fearing rejection and failure. I practically have a PhD in both subjects. No wonder I excel at this stuff. I want you to like me and not be mad at me and be in my life - especially right now, when we need all the support we can get. And I want to be really good at things and never, ever make mistakes - especially right now, when the stakes are so high.

Fear has been governing my life. It's been adrenalizing me, helping me subsist on 4-5 hours of sleep while trying to meet a buffet of commitments.

Every week I say yes to things I should say no to.

Every week I don't get things done that should get done.

Every week I say that next week I'll make the time to take care of myself, to go to the gym, to prepare healthier food, to just hang out and read a book, to paint or to write a song.

And every week I end up swamped because, on top of the things that need to happen (like appointments and work and groceries and time with the kids) I end up doing the things I don't really have time for but do anyway (like that extra volunteer shift, or committing to an event I really don't have time for, or helping someone out) which means I don't have as much time for the things I should be doing more of (like working out, losing myself in art, hanging out with my husband, or catching up with good friends.)

And on particularly bad weeks, which are most weeks lately, the housework suffers, we eat like crap and it feels like all the balls I've been juggling are crashing down.

"Amanda? Why do you feel like you have to make everybody happy? Can you answer the question?"

And this is the point where I start crying in the therapist's office, which I knew was bound to happen because I was in a great mood before the session and decided to wear full eye makeup knowing I wouldn't cry. It's a universal law that I should never wear eyeliner anywhere if I want to stay happy.

"I don't want to disappoint anyone," I say through my tears.

"Do you not think you're good enough on your own, without trying to please the world?"

And the answer, sadly, was no. I did not feel like I'm good enough on my own. How depressing is that?

I used to have a lot of confidence, but it's slipped in the last year or so. A challenging move, facing the fact that I never finished high school and working hard to support a kid who doesn't fit the mold has worn me down. Or maybe it's just exposed the ugly underbelly of what I thought was confidence and was probably just ego the entire time.

I can't change how I feel overnight. It's going to take some work. I'm trying to learn to be enough. I wrote about it recently and that was a good start, but there's a ton of work left to do. It's work that I have to do in order to preserve my integrity and be a good mom, partner, family member and friend.  I can't be this exhausted all the time.

When we looked at Gutsy's life and the pressure she's under, we realized that school was the big stressor that we could take away. So we removed it, and she's now able to focus on transitioning to life as a girl.

My big removable stressor is people pleasing. I need to stop saying yes to everything or rushing in to save the day at the expense of my emotional and physical health. It seems honourable in the short term, but in the long term? Well, I won't be around in the long term if I keep this up. I have to stop treating my life as a sprint and instead look at it as the marathon it is. I need my strength for the miles ahead.

I walked out of my therapist's office with a determined look on my now emo princess face. No more bending over backwards to make people happy. From now on, I do only the things I have to do and the things that will feed my soul and nourish my body. I'm choosing my commitments wisely and trying not to get run over by guilt in the process.

And you know what? I feel really good. The past week or so has been much better. I'm sleeping better, eating better and taking some much needed downtime. I've been consistently going to the gym and enjoying the first few blissful days of summer with my family. I've been saying yes to the things I want to say yes to, and unapologetically no to the things I can't or don't want to do.

And if people don't like it? Well, that's their issue. I can't control how other people feel. Any relationship based on me trying to please someone else isn't a maintainable relationship, anyway.

And I'm starting to believe, truly believe, just a little, that the person underneath all this fear is fabulous enough to be liked on her own merits.

Look at me, all growing up and stuff.