False Identity

She made a loop, then twisted the other string around it before pushing it through that little space it made out of itself. Keeping a firm hold on the loop, she pulled on the newly emerging little one until it matched the size of its companion. If done just right, the bow would be perfect, and she could run to the car, dinosaur backpack bumping behind her. If not, her shoes would either be as floppy as the loops, or she would have to start all over until it was right.

The barren tree branches blurred together into a stream of brown outside the backseat window. The coldness clung to it as the heater of the car whirred to keep it out. It was a season that always excited her, but she wasn’t really sure why. Somehow everything seemed to slow down, and she enjoyed soaking in the calmness of it. Except for today. She could already feel the dull dread building in her little body. It grew as the car stopped and her mother helped her out. She willed the dread away with each prance up the steps, but the familiar smell of the hallway melted all that work away until a knot of conflicted feeling prickled in her stomach.

Her friends greeted her with bursts of excitement. They were wearing their fun sweaters with bright, festive colors of green and red. The red-nosed reindeers and funny character elves bobbled as they tried to contain their excitement. The classroom was decorated as if to match their clever outfits, and all of the treats were arranged in the corner wrapped in red striped paper or silver bows.

She smiled timidly in her regular clothes, clutching the little straps of the dinosaur backpack.

The class was quickly hushed and ushered to their seats for their regular morning routine. She shrugged the backpack off and pulled a reading book out before taking her seat. After the announcements were called out over the loudspeakers, they were asked to stand and face the flag that stood in the corner – stark against the otherwise festooned wall. She stood for the pledge, but the reason she stood colorless and plain was the same reason, every morning, she stood with the others but kept her hands to her sides and her mouth shut as they diligently recited.

And as the teacher proclaimed the beginning of the Christmas party, the little girl reached for the reading book and was sent to sit in the hallway. Alone. Until the party was finished.

When school would resume after the holiday break, all of the kids would reconvene to their huddles and excitedly share what presents they had delightfully unwrapped in beautifully decorated homes. She would inevitably be asked what the jolly, red-suited man had left for her to which she would answer, “Oh, we don’t do that.” Their heads would bob absently before going back to their excited chatter.

As the year when on, she would have to kindly decline the glittered invitations to birthday parties. She would be left to color empty pages as the rest of the class adorned various designs on Easter eggs. There were reasons she couldn’t ever partake. She knew there were reasons. She didn’t really understand the reasons. She just knew that she was not like the rest of the kids, and she knew the script of what to say when asked “Why not?”

Each time, she would recite “Thank you, but no. It is against my religion.” And each time the words were spoken, the gap to the black abyss between her and the world would open a little farther. And each time the abyss grew, it whispered to her: If you’re not like them, there is no space for you.

If you do not wish to partake in our way, exclude yourself. But make yourself small about it.

So, the little girl grew up learning how to be small. In that smallness, her own mind was her refuge. It provided the means to feed that insatiable desire to not be small. It provided a curious mind.

As the years went on and life changed in so many different ways, the rules of what was allowed and what was not changed as the choices of her parents changed. And then she began to decide her own changes. In the shifting, she found joy in the task that always provided her companionship in those moments when she needed to be small – she read. And reading taught her many things.

It taught her that she was not alone in her experience of not being allowed.
It taught her that she was not alone in her experience of feeling a need to be small.
It taught her that she had many, many questions.
It taught her that there were others like her. Many others. And in many different ways.
It taught her that the flag she couldn’t pledge to was symbolic of a nation that tried to tell her she was an outsider.
It taught her that she wasn’t.
It taught her that even the first President of the United States of America was not a Christian.
It taught her that what she was told wasn’t always what was true.
It taught her that there were people who were not wanting to conform.
It taught her that she was not alone.
It taught her that she no longer wanted to be small.
It taught her that she would never, ever want anyone else to feel the need to be small.

It taught her that freedom in America was a false freedom.
It taught her that American culture meant you had the freedom to choose to opt-out of the American Christian idealism, as long as you stayed small. As long as you stood quietly. As long as you stepped out instead of proclaiming your own beliefs.
It taught her that she wanted a real freedom.
It taught her she was tired of opting out meant opting into oblivion.
It taught her that if she did not comply or step in line she would be seen as little.
And that was worse than seeming small.

It taught her that her soul deeply understood the plight of the outcast and overlooked.
It taught her how to recognize privilege.
It taught her how to use her own privilege.

It taught her that America is a nation with no majority.
It taught her that she no longer needed to opt-out.
The only option was to opt-in.

It taught her that being an American had only one definition, and it was simply to be American.

And so she stood. And no longer kept her mouth shut.

My Garden: A Satirical Short Story

Every morning in summer, I accompany a steaming cup of brewed substance to the wrought iron chair in the garden. I might stretch my back with a gentle twist or bend my neck to release a cracking protest to my forced ritual, but inevitably, I set myself down on that chair’s crimson cushion, tuck my feet beneath me until I am contorted into perfect comfort, and watch the golden light of morning wake the sleepy blooms in my garden. 

I will gently sip at my brew, anxious to consume it. The sharp sting of the heat caused by my eagerness is a stark contrast to the creeping, calm, annoyingly self-paced, golden beams reaching over the fence to bring their own first touch of warmth to my petaled friends. 

This isn’t the garden I enjoyed a year ago. These elegantly, chaotically massed plot of wildflowers was once a structured, intentionally planted, staked-and-lined, pruned, proper garden. 

Just as I do now, I would come out every morning with a steaming cup of brew, the contents of which were often collected from the garden the night before. I’d sit on my cushion that sat on my chair as I watched the sun come up and list out the tasks needing done. I would see the weeds that needed pulled, the mulch that needed to be bought and laid, the plants that might need some extra care, and on and on. I was happy in my chores, because I knew that as the sun went down, I was useful to these little things – and felt worthy enough after a day’s work to clip away a small bit here and there to brew in my steaming mug the next day. 

It sounds like a lovely, balanced ecosystem, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, there is a cathartic pace to the cycle of give and get. But just as there is a time for all things to grow, there is also a time for things to die.

My intentions were innocent. I wanted to grow a garden, to live from that garden, to be able to identify as a gardener and flip through gardening magazines while wearing a sunhat and say, “Ah, yes!” when a new composting technique became streamline while I had already implemented it weeks ago. I wanted to go to gardening shows with my prized hydrangeas (we’ll get to those fuckers in a minute) and be able to hold my special, secret hydrangea food concoction close to my chest as I thumbed my nose at anyone whose blooms were less full than mine. And if I never got to do any of that, I wanted to be able to wake up each morning, sit on my cushion that sat in my chair and sip my brew with a full heart. 

Most folks know about the language of flowers. Different flowers mean different things and can be given to someone to signify a message you wish to say but for some reason cannot otherwise verbalize. 

This garden had a language all of its own. It started as any good garden does – with a vague idea from some picture, a heart full of an idealist dream, and a trip to Home Depot. I bought it all in one trip. Invest fully or don’t bother, right? I got the soil, the hose, the plant food, the trowels and spades, the gloves – I already had the sunhat. I bought anything that made me feel like, and look like, a bonafide gardener. I was putting my soul on a platter, ready to transform it into anything that would make the small dirt patch in my back lawn thrive into the lusciousness I dreamed it could be. I even bought the hose nozzle that clicked nine times, and each time you clicked it, the water sprayed in a different pattern until you reached the perfect spraying proportion required by your plants – depending on their mood that day.

I get home, donned my gear, and stood hands on hips to survey the plethora of plants I unloaded from the backseat of my car. I thought I stood judging where each one should be placed according to where the sun hit in the afternoon or how much water and space they required according to the vague little tag they came with, but I think they stood with a more watchful eye and had already begun to make their judgements of me.

I can’t remember which I planted first, but I did put the little ones in the front and the big ones in the back. That felt right. The hydrangea went in the center with its blooms still small and green. Then, in went the rose bush with its blooms in the same state. I was immediately forced to learn the definition of ‘annuals’ as I broke in my garden gloves while burying the daffodil bulbs. I threw in some rosemary and mint next – all while imagining myself with long, red locks as I built herbal potions in my lavish Victorian kitchen like Gillian Owens. There was no dead body under my garden though. I’ve just always been envious of her hair. 

I had a couple lily plants that I strategically placed in a half circle around what I had already put in the ground before placing the peonies and pansies. These were the lower-growing, softer flowers who were already in bloom and showing their rich purples and pops of purity white. Oh! And marigold! I think I had a marigold plant in the back corner. I must have had one, because I remember thinking back to kindergarten when we grew marigolds from seeds as a baby science experience. Despite our tiny, uncoordinated hands, we managed to push seeds into little egg cartons of dirt one day and come back the next to find full grown plants. It definitely sugarcoated the growing process, but I remember being left with the impression that marigolds were resilient things. I pondered this and was thankful for their hopeful resilience as I clicked away at the hose nozzle until it showered a gentle rain over my newly plotted garden. 

The garden grew well the first few years. After all, all things have their seasons. Some are long, some are short. The roots grew deeper with each passing morning that I walked myself out with a mug in hand. I noticed subtle changes in my garden as the light would urge it awake. Instead of analyzing it, I focused on the growth and was satisfied enough with that. Each day, I pulled my weeds. I laid my mulch. I served by pruning and plucking and admiring. And when my head would ache from being bent over all day, I would pinch the rosemary and drink in the soothing scent in long, forceful whiffs until my headache vanished for simple fear that it would never get a normal breath of oxygen to it again should it not. 

One day, as I pulled away and rubbed my temple satisfactorily, I found myself eye-to-eye with a watchful, burning orange lily. Unyielding in the breeze, its black stigma was bent straight toward me. I self-consciously adjusted my sunhat, oddly aware at how many of my hairs were left uncovered and how my shirt was too white to be wearing while working in the garden. My crouched legs began to cramp, and my headache was returning, but I didn’t dare move. All of the lily plants seemingly had their stigma curiously, or judgingly, arched in my direction. That was the first day I felt the garden had taken a bit of me in its daily ritual of food gathering. I know because the next day my daily ritual of mug, cushion, chair, weeds, water, and prune was heavier on the latter three and a bit less satisfying. It was also the day I swore off coffee. 

At this point, I had fully invested in my education of becoming a gardener. I had read enough and even joined a ‘garden club’ to be around other enthusiasts like myself. I also resigned to the fact that I had made some rookie mistakes, but I was sure they would end up fine. So, I pressed on. I worked and worked and worked and had fun most days. 

I still dreamed of having my own prized hydrangeas. It was no easy task. Those babies needed babied. They required the most water, the most pruning, the perfect balance of sun and shade – and don’t you dare let a single ladybug near it or its leaves will throw a hissy fit and spot right up. 

I also became fond of my roses. They bloomed every year within the same week and was so full of blooms that it would sag with their weight as if it didn’t realize what its heavy burden was. But I’ll be damned if a thorn didn’t get me every time I went near the thing. 

The peonies and the pansies stayed low to the ground, and I would often have to pluck the shed lily petals from them so those poor blossoms could get their share of the sunlight. Overall, they were an obedient bunch as they happily fell in line with the ebb and flow of the seasons. They died every winter, and I had to replant them in the spring. 

Contrary to the peonies’ and pansies’ dutiful cycling, the daffodils confidently rebloomed each season, though seemed quick to burn out. 

Oh, yeah. And the marigolds. 

Now, while the hydrangeas have always been the ones who have required the most resources to grow and the most attention to thrive (I swear, it would wilt if I didn’t gaze upon it the most during my morning mug sipping), nothing could be more torturous as the mint. After first planting my garden, I read that mint should be potted and never placed in a bed with other flowers. Why? It’s a creeper. In year one, it was tame and mellow, and I was careful how much I would collect for my kitchen for fear of damaging it. By year three, I was having to pull its vines away from the foundation wall of my house. Truth! Instead of being careful with my trimmings, I would have to relentlessly hack away to keep any semblance of sanity or else that mint would have crawled through that bed and choked out every other living entity for fear it was going to starve by missing out on some secret form of sunlight just another centimeter away. If I had stayed still long enough and it grew fast enough, I’m sure it would have engulfed me too in its pursuits.

So, here I was – pruning, watering, mulching, plucking, swatting, mindful of the reach of my sunhat (I retired the white shirt) and felt like I had become a one-man band of my own making and still was as green as the day as my newly bought garden gloves. 

My back ached. My knees stained. My hands calloused. But I was still determined to become a gardener. 

Drip. Drip. I can’t remember the exact moment I noticed it. Drip. I wrote it off as being a leaky hose. Drip. Or maybe it was dew falling from the edge of the roof. A simple drip, drip isn’t cause for concern anyway, so I went about my day and found that by evening the sound had retired and so I did too. 

The next morning, it came again. Drip, drip. It wasn’t the hose. I was forced to check it as I had to water the garden before the sun came up, because it had been so dry for all the lack of dew. Drip. 

I finally sat on my cushion which sat on my chair and sipped on my lukewarm brew. Its usual tannin bitterness (when had it lost its sweetness?) now had a tint of metallic to it. Smelling burnt toast meant I might be having stroke, but what was this? I looked at my garden expecting it to reveal what ailment it was, as if it held a secret I needed to know and the gap in leaves or bend in blossoms would miraculously convey to me what a simple glance in my cup would tell me instantly. The dried leaves had all settled in the water in my mug, making way for the dark mass to swirl as it fanned out to dissipate into my daily brew. Drip. Another crimson mass plopped into my drink before expanding into nothingness. 

I was breaking. Not yet broken, thank god, I threw that mug with a shriek and ran inside to examine myself. Not a scratch, not a wound. Drip. The crimson drop skidded down the side of the sink. I must be making it up. I have to be losing my mind. As if the streak of blood gave my soul permission, all of those little moments flooded over me, weighing on me, exhausted me. All of the pruning, the watering, the feeding, the careful and tender care I gave so freely was taking its toll as the garden I dreamed of having was sucking me dry by its own desire to live. 

I could have stayed in the bathroom, had a soak in the bath and gone out the next day after a nice night’s sleep ready to do twice the work to catch up. Drip. But at what cost to myself. I didn’t know – but I was unwilling to find out. 

With my sunhat and dirt-crusted garden gloves strewn on the floor, I went out to the garden and plucked those little, self-righteous bastards up from their roots. I could have ignored them, yes. I could have deprived them of water until they shriveled and died, but that would have been too slow – and I would have had to suffer through staring at a decaying plot that constantly begged me for care and reminded me of my sadness, my failures, my desires, and about that blue ribbon from the garden fair I would never get to see. There was something about the physicalness of the ripping and witnessing the bulging roots that were warped at naked without their soil coverings that was lusciously satisfying. 

My hands were bludgeoned, and my body ached with the hunched strain, but at least I knew the source of the blood and pain. This was a wound that would be made by my own terms, and once the work was done, and the petals already began to melt in the heat of the day, I went inside to tend to myself. 

The next day, I returned to Home Depot – not in the service of the garden, but in the service of myself. All I walked out with was a new mug and single packet of wildflower seeds. They required two simple things: to be tossed with the wind over a space of fertile soil, and a bit of my own patience. Mother Nature would take care of the rest. 

The first year they bloomed happily. Then they dropped their seeds, and the next year, they flourished into a mass of applauding expansion. My garden was thick and full of the most vibrant colors and magnificent array of shapes. I now drink my brew and sit on my cushion that sits on my chair, and together we bask in the morning light. 

Disney World Trip Planning

Learning about giraffes on the Kilimanjaro Safaris

Did you know Disney World property is over 30,000 acres of magical entertainment? That means there is a whole lot of fun to be had, and planning a trip can quickly become overwhelming.

But do not fear! This questionnaire and quick-reference guide will help verse you in the many experiences and help you build a perfectly magical adventure that will appeal to every member of your traveling troupe.



The van Reenen Clan has traveled to Disney World 7 times (and counting!) in the last 7 years with a variety of experiences: adults only, with an infant, with a toddler, with grandparents, in the spring, in the summer, in the winter, staying at Disney World resorts, staying off property and more!

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. We could talk about Disney alllll day long and love helping families discover happy Disney adventures!

Women and “Bad Boys”

The wall in my office was recently donned with an original screen print of Kylo Ren in his helmet. I had to mount it behind me, because if it were anywhere I could stare directly at it, I would not get anything done in that space.

I gloated about this piece for weeks before I was able to pick it up. Not only would it go perfectly with my Stormtrooper action figure, lightsaber sounding doorbell, and Death Star cup and teapot, but… I also have a real love for Kylo Ren. My husband even calls him my “emo boyfriend,” and if you follow my Instagram, you might have noticed a picture of me with a ridiculous grin on my face, standing speechless as I look at his looming figure during a character interaction at Disney World. I’m slightly obsessed.

A dear coworker, who’s been at the company for 40 years, walked by my office and looked at the picture and contemplated a moment before posing a question to me, “Why are women attracted to bad boys?”

My first reaction was to think, “He’s not a “bad boy”!”, but I immediately had a PTSD flashback to a class at university where I dared to argue that the character of Chigurh in No Country for Old Men wasn’t evil, thus enticing a rain of fire and fury upon me from my classmates and a final, “And Bri, do you have anything to share?” from the professor at the end of every conversation henceforth.

But his question did make me contemplate the age-old archetype of women being attracted to the “bad boy.” The concept consumes story arcs again and again across all mediums – books, movies, plays, mythologies – ancient stories of women wanting the bad boy that will only cause her emotional harm when there was a safer, happier choice in a kinder, gentler man. If a woman knows the risk of emotional harm is high, why would she continue to pursue the one who poses the risk?

Let’s reflect on the elaborate and beautifully complex palace that is the woman psychology. We are the mothers of the world – actually having a child is not required. We are creators and comforters. We are the balance keepers – kissing boo-boos, healing wounds, and lifting spirits. We are lovers, and appreciators of the cycles of ups and downs that life brings. We experience that cycle through ourselves, innate within the biology of our bodies. We experience it through the deeply personal involvement of birth and death. This is not to say that men don’t experience and feel deeply about these life events – only that women experience it through the pain of the effort of the creation of it all.

With this understanding, it becomes natural for a woman to be attracted to what is perceived as the “bad boy” when that character often reflects the same cycle of ups and downs that we women operate in daily. We crave a companion who isn’t afraid of that journey, who will lift us to new heights within it, and who provide us with a deeper understanding as we travel through it.

To explore the perceived “opposite” option, there is also a time, personality, and even season when a woman desires an anchor that will serve as a beacon to calmer waters. But if the relationship is a healthy one, the “bad boy” can also be or become that calm beacon. Not to mention, those who present themselves as the “good guy” often have depths that can lead to unhealthy relationships (… hello Hans from Disney’s Frozen).

So, I encourage the Wild Women of this world to find their equal in their passions no matter the stigma. Explore the reasons behind your attraction, weigh the balance between health and adventure, and always know that you deserve the utmost respect as the Keeper of Life. Surround yourself with a tribe of wise supporters who will speak truths and help you along all of your journeys – and seek a life partner who complements you, raises you up, encourages your dreams, hears your voice, and desires your happiness.

I chose a “bad boy” in many ways as my life partner, but he is a “bad boy” in all the best of those ways – and we have had a healthy journey through the rest of it – on both sides.

So, cheers to the bad boys!

Photo Credit: Artwork by Justus Brozek (Instagram: @justusbrozek)

To All the Women Who Are Still Carrying Their Calves

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains graphic content regarding miscarriage.

I have written about my miscarriage before. I have shared the depth of the physical and emotional pain hoping that the women who have similar experiences have a resource for what to expect and know they are not alone even in the darkest moments.

In honor of the orca mother who has been carrying her dead calf for more than two weeks, I feel compelled to write about the part that I previously have not dared share, because it is the part that I’m ashamed of. It is the part that hurts the most. This is the part that is the most confusing to me as I reflect back on it. And it is the part where I find the heart of Isha, the name I call this Orca mother, and mine are one.

After the pain of knowing the child you had hopes for is dead inside you – after your body bleeds for over a week trying to relentlessly hold tight to it in hopes of miraculously igniting life back into it – after the true, physical labor your body goes through as you grip the towel you have laid on the bathroom floor to catch the blood, praying that the pain was over – after that pain and blood doesn’t stop coming and you wonder if you’re dying too because no one told you it would hurt this bad – after all of that, your body finally releases the clumped mass of flesh folded into a package the size of your hand which contains the remains of what life there was. And you wonder why when you googled “miscarriage” none of this part was mentioned. You read the medical process. You read the signs about when to begin to suspect you have lost your child. You read about timelines, doctors, procedures, how to know it’s all going wrong, but you don’t read about this part. You don’t just bleed more than usual and then it’s over. You have to labor so your body contracts again and again to bunch up the placenta you had made so you can pass it through you without dilating traditionally.

And there was never any mention about this precise moment.

It’s the moment you stare at this bloody flesh at 3AM alone on a dark bathroom floor and say to yourself – “What now?”

Dear Isha, I do not know. I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t told there would be a decision to make. I wasn’t told there would be something to make a decision about. It would happen. I would bleed. It would be finished.

Instead, I had to do something with this. With my child. With the flesh. What do I do? There are no formal funerals for this. It is rarely even talked about! Do I put it in a baggie and place it in the fridge until I had the strength to Google “what next?” Do I wrap it up and place it in a shoebox to bury in the garden? Do I throw it in the trash and let my husband unknowingly take it out? Do I stare at it for a while? Do I take a picture to remember them by? To remember this moment? Do I flush the flesh? Do I carry it around for three weeks like this orca mother until I finally decide which path to take and at last feel like my grief, the pain, the emotions, the fear, the sadness can be let go as I let go of it?

This happens to a quarter of ALL WOMEN, and I have never seen a story or heard another woman talk about this part.

I think Isha moved me to write this for a very specific reason. I know I still have a lot of unpackaged pain and guilt about this part of my miscarriage. And it wasn’t even over at this point for me. I continued to bleed for the next 24 hours – fist-sized blood clots about every 20 minutes and filling up heavy pads between each one until I was pale and weak and sat on the doorstep of my house, because I didn’t have the physical strength to stand, until a friend could pick me up and take me to the ER because my husband had started a new job that week and was in a meeting all the way across town.

It wasn’t over for me when I “miscarried.” It still isn’t over for me. I still carry my calf. And I still think back to the moment I decided to let them go into the depths of the ocean and wonder if I did it right – if I let go at the right time and in the right way.

I am with you, Isha. Take your time.

Photo: Robin W. Baird/Cascadia Research Collective

Decade Three and My First Self-Help Book

While the bookstore has always been sacred, holy ground to me, the looming “Self-Improvement” aisle was the one teenage-Bri would scoff at before striding over to the Young Adult section to seek out a gripping tale with a strong heroine who was probably caught in a luscious love triangle. Any title sitting on the shelves of the aforementioned place of doom was likely full of sad insight about how to climb out of a painful rock bottom situation. I thought you had to be desperate to go seeking information there – and if you were indeed that desperate, you were obviously old and dull.

… I was quite a cocky teenager.

Jump to light speed and join me here at the beginning of my third decade, and you’ll only find maybe one or two titles closely described as “Christian Reflection” books, and then maybe one or two more books dictated by my previous Corporate America life about sales and management. While I have let go of the stigma of what that aisle contains for others, I have held on to the idea that it meant darkness and doom for me. (Reality Check No. 1 – Self-reflection can be instigated in many ways and in many packages – not just in those 5 minutes of corpse pose in yoga.) I had my mind set that is was a depressing aisle filled with depressing things.

Until recently.

Now – I consider myself an ever-growing but quite emotionally healthy adult. Still, when I first heard the title of Girl, Wash Your Face (by Rachel Hollis) there was this little being inside me that just went full fan girl at a Bieber concert. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what it was about beyond the tagline on the front cover, and truly, I didn’t really connect with the tagline itself. I simply thought, “Well, sure – yeah.” Even worse, I didn’t know anything about the author – which may be an epic fail causing the revoking of my Millennial card – or even worse, my Modern Millennial Mom card. Too bad – I think I lost them in my “Societal Titles that Don’t Mean a Thing” junk drawer in my kitchen on Mars anyway. But I digress.

For some reason, I really, really wanted this book.

Let’s not give me too much credit. I didn’t face that long, dark aisle I scoffed as when I was younger. Instead, my Amazon Fairy placed a package under my front doormat, and I really could not contain my excitement. In fact, my sleep-loving self was so excited to read it that I woke up at 5AM, completed a short workout, then curled up on the couch in a with a steaming cup of joe in a dark and still sleeping house to crack open this book like I’m about to find the Golden Ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar!

I can just see my teenage-self sitting in the oversized chair in the corner silently judging me with a strong side-eye. Sorry, not sorry, Young Bri. Reality Check No. 2 – Self-care is not just a day at the spa. Despite what she may think (despite what my now-self may think) this moment of me in a quiet home before dawn reading a self-help book is a normal, relaxed, well use of my time. I just have to learn to be comfortable in it. Beyond the revelations that left me in tears within the first few pages, I’ve been pondering the dynamic between the self-judgey teenage self and the even harsher self-judgey but now receptive adult-self. Why was this book now deemed healthy? Why did teenager-self hold such a stigma against it? When did it change? What caused that switch?

Writing this now, I think I have realized just how unhealthy my mental state was when I was that young age – which should be no real surprise and would require at least 100,000+ words to explore at even the minimal surface level. But surely there is a shift in most of us that still leaves the questions of when, where and why we first decide to pick up a book like this. I’m sure it’s a different answer for everyone, but I also think that it speaks volumes about the desire for community in our society where we can speak uplifting truths, find support, move forward together and be real about the trials that we come across as we all do this thing called life. I also hope that the reason books like Hollis’ is hitting fandom level speaks to the breaking down of the ‘stigma’ around mental health – thus allowing us to be more comfortable sharing and discussing such challenging topics.

Or maybe I’m just crossing that age threshold where I’ve begun to stick my head out of the foxhole to take notice. I wish my immersion has been as brave, strong, and elegant as Wonder Woman climbing off of that ladder out into the fight as the army of men behind her stand with mouths agape, but at least I’m climbing. (Reality Check No. 3: Be free to move at your own pace. Life is not a cycling class.) I feel like womankind as a whole is finally up the ladder and striding over the barrier. Legions and legions of us! With books like this to push us forward. With forums like this to make us ponder and build communities of support within ourselves.

But it starts while sipping coffee on a couch, book in hand held like a mirror before me as I reflect deeper upon what motherhood means to ME, what being a professional woman means to ME, what being a wife means to ME, and what self means to ME.

I am only a couple of chapters in to the book, but I already feel as though Hollis is my spirit animal. She may actually be my twin. Honest. Either way, she keeps asking me some great questions, and I look forward to the next one. Meanwhile, I’m telling that teenage that if she doesn’t clean up her room in the next hour there’s no going out with friends this weekend.

I can try.

In the meantime, whether its Girl, Wash Your Face or another self-help book that has caught your fancy – I hope you are in a place where you can embrace the message in one way or another and allow the pain you have in your life to move you forward. I hope you are also able to use that pain to serve as a beacon to support, love, and lead others.

It’s not a dark, dreary isle. It’s an aisle full of life. We should all meet there sometime.

Update: By the end of the book, I ended up really not liking it. But I read it. And I know myself better for it.

Taking Action: Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace

“Is your manager here?”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“Did your husband give you permission to give your number to other men?”

These common phrases are just a few heard by women in the workplace. After experiencing encounters like these, women often suppress the uncomfortable sensation provoked, hide the anger, or choke back responses, because we are either in shock at what we are experiencing or have been conditioned to believe it is normal, well-intentioned, or any reaction from us would be deemed emotional or magnified. It is not. Familiarity is not permission for unprofessional behavior.

Actually, I am the manager.

I did not do anything special for you. This is a professional relationship, and my actions are not in order for you to take special notice of me.

I don’t need my husband’s permission to give my number to anybody. I’m providing my number to you since we are coworkers attending a conference together. In fact, if you need to communicate with me, please do so by e-mail instead.

While the world is moving toward bringing harassment issues to light, there are a few actions we can do to participate in the movement or simply keep our own workplace accountable. After all, we will spend an average of 1/3 of our life in our workplace1, and 60% of women will experience sexual harassment2. It needs to be safe and conducive to the tasks at hand.

So, how do we navigate experiencing harassment in the workplace? How do we encourage appropriate behavior? How do we possibly take any action and still remain comfortable with ourselves, those around us and not place our professional career at risk? Here are a few actions we can take on behalf of ourselves.

  • Walk away.
    • No matter what is said, and no matter the means by which it is delivered, you always have the right to simply walk away and disengage. Whether this is a client or a coworker, your presence has power and removing yourself from them has power too.
  • Document it.
    • This is the most important action for any situation. Please, document the experience. Draft an e-mail. Make a note. Write it in a journal at home. Make sure that you have a recording of the incident that you can reference back to at any time. In the very least, this allows you to begin to build a trail of experiences and can show a pattern with a particular person or organization.
  • Report it.
    • Whether it is a single incident or several, take your experience to leadership. Be sure to document this as well, because if nothing is done you can show that you tried to have it resolved by those in the organization who should be your advocate. If the person you take the situation to does nothing, or writes it off, take it to the next level up.
  • Speak out in the moment.
    • Whether it’s a defiant or a simple correction, you have the right to ask them to change their behavior in the moment. Responses allow us to use that immediate moment to educate the person so they hopefully recognize the error, apologize, and correct their behavior.
  • Speak out later.
    • You can always allow yourself the opportunity to collect your thoughts, construct a response, and revisit the conversation at a later time. Delaying a conversation can also allow you time to involve a superior or leadership to either witness or delegate the conversation.

Although not everyone is in the position to be able to leave their current employer, it is an action you can take. This might be a long term plan or a short term one. Regardless, you have the freedom to take this step. If you document your experiences, this is a time where you can present that documentation .

Know that you have great power, and no one can take that power away from you. You also have the freedom to change the level of your response at any time. If a few comments here and there do not spike concern for you, but the third one is enough, you are allowed to take action. And most importantly – you are never, ever overreacting. Those who are making you uncomfortable need to be educated on the seriousness of accountability when it comes to provocative speech and behavior in our society.

Unfortunately, the shift towards a harassment free and communication encouraged environment is still in a phase that brings risks. You might be told that reporting someone will put a kink in your professional aspirations, and this is a striking reminder that women still have a long road ahead before we have true equality without discrimination within the workplace. There is still a cultural shift that is required to reach that goal, but these actions can serve as the foundation of making that shift happen.

Thankfully, we do have more resources than ever before to assist women who wish to take action, and communities of support and action are building. Here are just a few:

https://leanin.org/sexual-harassment

https://womenemployed.org/sexual-harassment-and-your-rights-job

https://esa.org/earlycareer/bullying-and-harassment-in-the-workplace-resources-for-targets-and-their-allies/

Twitter:

#metoo

#metoowhatnext

#timesup

(Please, please – if you feel as though you are in a situation where there is potential for physical assault or abuse, immediately seek professional assistance and know that you have resources to help. And remember: Having a drink is not an invitation and a smile or hello is not consent. Whatever your experience, you are believed!)

 

1      http://www.gettysburg.edu/news_events/press_release_detail.dot?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b

2      Quinnipiac poll, November 21, 2017, https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2502

 

 

Wildflower

I’m not always vocal about my faith – mostly because I journey this life wishing to experience it in me, through me, and around me. This includes observing others as they do the same and wanting to find connection before opposition. I do not always know when my journey is influencing others nor when others are influencing me. I trust it happens – constantly. Though there are moments when I’m struck so strongly with the obvious effect on my life that I must sit and reflect on the long path that has been winding to that particular moment.

When I was 18, my birthday present from my mother was a tattoo. She was very eager about the present, and I spent a solid few weeks contemplating how I could wrap as much of my identity up into a single permanent impression on my skin. I decided on a fleur de lis (a symbol meaning life) with Celtic knot-work (a symbol of eternity and a reflection of my Celtic heritage) done in a henna brown color between my shoulder blades. With its size being bigger than a softball, it was certainly an ambitious first tattoo, but I tend to fully embrace commitments.

First

It healed beautifully, but within a year or so, the color had started to fade away. I got it touched up to bring the life back to it, but within another year, the color was fading again. It was as though my skin was rejecting the ink. I was tired of going back and sitting under the needle for two hours each time just to hope it would stick and being sorely disappointed (in more ways than one). So, I decided to allow the artwork to continue to fade away for the next decade.

During this time, I had an experience that defined my belief in a higher power, and the concept of eternal life came to have a new meaning. A few years later, I was having a conversation with the universe, and I came to have a new understanding of myself. It has a name for me – a secret name, a powerful one. It calls me “Wildflower,” and I saw myself in an open field, filling it with complex and ornate colors as I encouraged life to spring forth around me.

It was a beautiful concept – one I could only hope I could look back on my life and possibly witness the fruits born from it. But years passed and the memory became faded, or perhaps it just simply became part of me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

Until recently. There has been some drastic movement in my life where I have been able to transition from breadwinner and momma to being able to have a renewed focus on a lifelong dream to pursue writing as a career. This is the beginning of a very long journey, but it has stirred change in my life. Positive change.

I looked in the mirror one morning and noticed the faded, discolored, splotched “artwork” on my back, and I suddenly, absolutely had to do something about it. Within a day, I had a consultation at a local tattoo studio and two days later I was under the needles again.

Now, my tattoo was so faded that I truly could have had anything cover it. Instead, I instantly decided I would keep the fleur de lis, but I would do it in a black outline with an explosion of watercolor from behind it.

To give you a little more insight into my character, I don’t do color well. I live in neutral tones. My home, my clothes, my car color – neutrals, please. If I try to incorporate color, everything gets disconnected and out of hand quickly. Still, I was set on the foreign concept of vibrant hues becoming a permanent part of my body.

Maybe I have a rash personality. I do operate very swiftly and decidedly. The tattoo artist free-handed the work, and by the end of it, he had incorporated every color of the rainbow. I trusted him completely. After all, nearly anything would have been better than the stain I had before.

Tat

I have to say that I absolutely love my new tattoo. It’s more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. I feel its presence on my back, because I can feel the identity it is pulling from me. A day after I got it, I was talking to my husband, and I was suddenly struck by the remembering of that conversation I had with the universe.

It wasn’t rashness. It wasn’t nonchalance. It wasn’t coincidence. I was moved by my true identity that I strive to live within every day. I want to bring light to this world with knew understandings as I lift people up with support and encouragement.

My old identity is covered over by the new. The old tattoo is still there. The outline of the fleur de lis remains, but I am both and the same. I am free to live a bold life, proud of my values and with a desire to spread forth the color. Trust in what I cannot see in the mirror. Instead, I must twist about to see what is on my back. My new art serves as a physical reminder that the universe moves through me and around me in majestic ways, and I am free and eager to witness and participate in this beautiful life.

*** A special thank you to Fredo at @LiquidInkLubbock in Lubbock, TX for unknowingly serving as a vessel with his genius talent.

The Strength of a Mother

The way I saw the whole world shifted the moment I discovered I was pregnant with my son. Though it may not have been apparent from the outside, I was consumed by the concept that every movement I made was shared by the human growing inside me. Every experience, every task, every thought and every morsel put in my mouth was carefully weighed knowing the life within my womb would be a reflection of the lengths I went to and the sacrifices I made along the journey of pregnancy. And I know with a resounding assuredness that every single mother has experienced the same. Every single one.

Here are some things I DID NOT do while pregnant: eat deli meat, clean the cat’s litter box, drink caffeine, strain my body, sleep on my back, get too hot, travel after a certain milestone, die my hair, sit in vibrating chairs, painted, gain too much weight, gain too little weight, eat sushi, eat soft cheese, drink alcohol…

Things I DID do: ate 40+ grams of protein per day, hired a midwife, hired a doula, drank lots of water, took birthing classes, took prenatal yoga classes, drank lots (and lots) of water, planned a natural birth, kept a food journal, perineal stretches, bought a birthing ball, pre-made lactation cookies, bought a thermometer you attached to the child to take constant readings, read countless articles on what else I should be doing and countless articles on what else I should not be doing.

These were the lengths I went to before ever setting eyes on my son. The amount of sacrifices I gladly made were only magnified once I finally held him in my arms. Those were the kind of sacrifices that are ancient traditions of motherhood. Once my son was in my arms, those sacrifices expanded into depleting my body of essential vitamins as I tried to heal and provide, losing sleep (either because he was awake or sick or teething or wanted to experience 3AM), high anxiety worrying about his position as he slept, trying and barely succeeding at feeding my child with mother’s milk…

These are concerns that kept me up at night in my privileged life. Deciding which stroller to buy took weeks of research, reaching out on social media to ask other moms and fretting whether I needed to look at one with four wheels or three.

If I had to consider how to raise my child in poverty – meaning malnutrition, cries of hunger, inadequate clean water, watch him itch with bugs – or watching him grow knowing organized crime would entice him to join or kill him – or know from personal experience that my daughter was likely to be raped well before she ever reached the legal age consensual sex – I cannot even imagine the lengths I would go, or the risks I would take, to keep my child safe and provide a better life for them. If instead of knowing that cleaning the litter box could potentially make my unborn child sick, I lived knowing my child would grow to suffer unimaginable fates, I would cross deserts. I would swim rivers. I would jump borders even if it meant new risks. I would pray that the freedoms in the stories I was told, and in the words I read, were possibly even slightly true.

Mothers do not put their children in danger unless the unknown future holds more hope than the known present. For the sake of all of the mothers who have come before us, let us come together to lift those around us trying to escape horror only to find the worst heartache mankind has ever experienced – having their children separated from them for choosing new risks for the possibility of their freedom.

Processing

pexels-photo-1076503.jpeg

People keep asking me what my new project is about (the new “book” I’m writing) — I say it that way because I’m allowing it to become whatever it may become. It’s simply something I’ve been moved to write.

But when I lay out the subject, people tend to nod and provide opinion on it (which is always welcome), but I’ve had to smile because the already predisposed opinion of the subject has taken hold in their mind.

Coming into one scene today, I had to write this out in order to process it all properly, because I found myself trying to put it somewhere it didn’t belong. So, here it is. A little “jogging out the madness” so I can set my sights to the real inspiration.

___________________

“It’s amazing to me how the most sacred, beautiful, thing in this world has been torn apart. Strewn through the ages, mashed up, picked at – made an embarrassment, politicized, sterilized.

Women bleed.

Women create life through the bleeding.

Women go through loss in that bleeding.

Women sustain this world with that bleeding.

We bleed to renew our body to make way for the life to come. And it is to be hidden as much as possible. It is taken advantage of.

And when that cycle is interrupted in most celebratory of occasions – when life had been made – it is a “condition”. To be treated. Not educated. Not sustained.

We have forgotten the celebration.

We have forgotten miracle.

We have forgotten the blessing.

We have forgotten what it is.

And if you’re mind just went “Yes, that’s right! No one should ever abort….” You’ve been got. Because you’re forgetting one very precious, very important part of all of this in the blindness that the enemy has given us.

You forget the WOMAN.

She isn’t celebrated. She isn’t rejoiced. She isn’t educated. She has been told enough to allow her understanding to be manipulated about her own body and the process of the one she is making.

We grow up as girls hiding our menstruation, hiding our blood, hiding our bodies, hiding our purpose and then when the miracle of conception happens – we are asked the condition so we may judge or rejoice. And even in the rejoice there is the judgement. Even among ourselves! You’re not sick enough. You’re not big enough. You’re too big. You’re too weak. You’re too sad. Do this. Take this. Just you wait.

And then we wonder at the loss of life – both intentional and unintentional. And we shake our heads. And I shake my head – because we have forgotten. We’ve been manipulated to believe we’re having the conversation – when we have forgotten what the conversation is about.”