I Am Water, I Am Sunlight

I remember seeing an interview years ago on Oprah that shocked me. Dr. Laura Berman was being interviewed, and the gist of what she was saying was this—as parents we should be teaching our young girls to masturbate. I think the age she recommended was between the ages of 10-12.

Gasp.

Her reasoning—if we teach our daughters to pleasure themselves, they will learn that this is something they can do FOR THEMSELVES. So when the first boy comes along who does the things that make her toes curl, she will not associate this kind of pleasure with another person. She will know the pleasure is coming from HER OWN body. She will know that this boy IS NOT A WIZARD (forgive me, I’m paraphrasing). A girl may be less inclined to stay with a boy who doesn’t treat her well, or less inclined to be constantly seeking that NEXT boy to engage with sexually—because she will know that, like Dorothy, SHE has the power all along.

At the time, I had a two year old and a newborn—both girls. Talking about sex with them was a long ways off (not so much, anymore). I found myself sitting there in complete conflict about what I was hearing. My mother NEVER talked to me about sex. We never even talked about menstruating, never mind about masturbating. I can’t think of anything more mortifying than having had that conversation with my mother. Still, it made sense. I filed it away in my mind as something to consider down the road. Something to chat about with other mothers of girls. Probably not something that would end up in my mothering repertoire.

As the years passed I found myself in an increasingly unhappy marriage. A marriage wherein affection was sparse. He never told me I was beautiful. Or smart. Or funny. Or kind. Or a good mother.

And I needed him to say these things in order for them to be true.
(Read that again.)

I was a shriveling houseplant.
He was water.
He was sunlight.

I posed for a photo shoot done by some friends who were trying out a new concept of helping women to feel seen through photography. To feel empowered. They posted my photos on Facebook. I sat on the couch with my computer in my lap, watching as my Facebook blew up with lovely comments over the photos of me. Across the room my husband was looking at the same pictures and his first comment was, “Whose shirt is that you’re wearing?”

“Look at ME!” I screamed silently through the internet….from the other side of the room.

An old boyfriend reached out to me on social media, and we began to chat. He would write that I was incredibly sexy. And the smartest woman he knew. That he respected me. Admired me.

I was hooked.
He was water.
He was sunlight.

We never saw each other in person. And at a certain point I messaged him that we couldn’t communicate anymore. I wanted to work on my marriage. I knew that I was spending too much time thinking about him. Too much time thinking about the version of me that HE TOLD ME I WAS. I didn’t love him. I loved HIS version of ME.

Despite therapy, nothing changed in my marriage. And after a while I resumed the messaging. I’m not proud of that. I was so thirsty.

I needed water.
I needed sunlight.

Where else would I get them if not from him?
Surely THIS is where it is kept?

When my husband told me he knew about the messaging, I felt like a scorned child who’d gotten caught playing with something she wasn’t supposed to. I was ashamed.

Looking back I realize this was the moment I knew our marriage would not be saved. Not because of the “emotional affair” as he called it, but because he had known for a long time about these communications, and had said nothing. And then—when he told me he knew—it was in an email, sent while we laid side by side in bed.

Where was the passion? Where was the jealousy? The outrage?
It was further validation of the fact that I was unworthy.
Of water.
Of sunlight.

And the old boyfriend? I was only irresistible when I was unattainable. When he saw my marriage going down he did not want to be counted among the wreckage.

No more water.
No more sunlight.

About a year after my divorce, I went on a date. The man was poetic and dreamy and said the words I needed to hear about myself. “You are so beautiful.” “I wake up in the middle of the night longing for you.” “You are a wonderful mother.”

He was water.
He was sunlight.

When he took it away abruptly, I begged to have it back.
Just a splash. Just a beam. Please.

Just when I thought he would never feed me again—I’d feel a drop of rain, a flash of light. And then I’d wait, with my hands cupped. With my face tilted to the sky. Thank you. This will sustain me a while. Surely there will be more to come.

Upon refection I have come to realize that this pattern did not begin with my marriage. I chased after a man—a boy—from high school all the way up until he became engaged to be married ten years later.

He was water.
He was sunlight.

Another man in my twenties, the same…I coveted him until he was no longer available.

He was water.
He was sunlight.

Recently this particular man returned to my life—offering water, and sunlight. But I didn’t want it. If he was offering it so freely, I thought there must be something wrong.

I’m SUPPOSED to beg. I am SUPPOSED to be dying of thirst.
Doesn’t he know I am not worthy of this kind of abundance?
This is NOT how it works.

This pattern has been a hard one for me to recognize or acknowledge, because I have had no fear of being alone. I’ve spent way more time single than I have in relationships. I am independent. I am not lonely.

I do not seek to have just ANY man in my life in order to fill a need. What I do instead is to appoint someone as the assessor of my self worth. (I think you can guess that this person has NEVER been ME). They may have this job for many years, until the torch is passed to the next man I deem worthy of this title.

How does one gain this dubious honor? He must simply water me and warm me in the light of his affection…and then, take it away.

Tell me I’m worthy, and then make me doubt it. I’ll be hooked for years.

This revelation has been—as you can imagine—unsettling. I’ve been in a bit of a tailspin about it. How do I get to a place wherein receiving love freely and abundantly from a man will feel…normal?

To where I don’t feel there must be something wrong with him if he thinks I’m worthy…not just in the beginning, but——STILL?

To where, upon having someone withdraw their affection, I won’t be inclined to believe this simply means I must work harder to prove my worth?

To where I won’t place my beliefs about what I deserve in the hands of someone who may never have even volunteered for the task. (Whether it was a willful endeavor or not, it was never his to have.)

This morning I sat with my coffee, reading a book by Brene Brown, “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.”

And I don’t know why, but I thought of that interview years ago, with Oprah. TEACH THE GIRLS THAT THEY HOLD THE POWER WITHIN THEMSELVES.

And I had this Aha moment about my life.
About my loves.
About sunlight. And water.
And apparently—about masturbation.

It seems to me that teaching our daughters how to self-satisfy goes WAY beyond sex. I know that feeling powerful when it comes to sexual pleasure is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a woman’s self esteem and personal power. But teaching our girls ownership of and appreciation for their own bodies seems like an excellent idea, doesn’t it? Just one more way of teaching them that they don’t need someone else in order to feel good about themselves.

And I must teach my girls to appoint no one but themselves as the ASSESSORS OF THEIR OWN WORTH.

I understand wholly and humbly that I can ONLY teach them by example.
By being worthy…of myself.

I want each of them to know she has EVERYTHING she needs WITHIN HERSELF. What a man chooses to offer—or to withhold—is no reflection of her worthiness.

SHE is water.
SHE is sunlight.

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Day 255/365 Sex Is A Funny Word

“Is VIRGINAL a word?” my eleven year old asked me at 7am this morning.

“Yes,” I said. We were getting ready for school, and I had some Christmas music playing in the background.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

Ummmmm….(Gulp, oh God, really? I had barely had any coffee.)

“Well, in this (Christmas) context, it is referring to the baby Jesus having been born to Mary and Joseph without them having made him….ugh, without having sex. Christians believe that Jesus was a gift from God…the son of God.”

Looking confused, she said, “Was that a word in this song?”

“Wasn’t it? Isn’t that why you asked?”

“No,” she said, pointing to a piece of paper. “I meant to write the word Virginia, but instead I wrote Virginal. I was just wondering if that was actually a word.”

“Ohhhhh.”

Sex is an uncomfortable topic for me with my kids, but I am trying to be open and honest with them as they begin to ask questions. In this case she had no idea she was making me sweat out an answer about sex, but I guess it was good practice!

Beau is in fifth grade. Sex Ed is not something I’d have considered covering with her yet. Maybe that is naive of me. My parents and I never actually had “the talk”. Growing up, any information on the topic of sex I gleaned from friends, or from watching the neighbor’s dogs…or the livestock down the street. There were a lot of unanswered questions…and I was not about to ask my mother. 

Last summer Beau came home from her father’s house with a book called “Sex is a Funny Word.”

I nearly keeled over.

“Maybe I could give that a read first?’ I said.

“Well, I’ve already read most of it,” she said, dismissively.

“Great! Well…I’d like to read it so I know what you know.”

Once I started reading it I understood why her dad had bought the book. Having a father who has recently revealed that he identifies as a woman really brings the topic of sex (meaning sexuality and gender) into a child’s consciousness perhaps earlier than we (or I) would have liked.

There was a lot of value in the book. The topic of sexuality and gender identity was covered in an age appropriate and very inclusive way. There were other important points made too – for example, it addressed touching by others which might make a child feel uncomfortable, and what to do about it.

There were also some very scientifically accurate diagrams of male and female genitalia (see, even that word makes me cringe!). So, she now knows the names for parts of the female anatomy that I don’t think I learned until college (what can I say, I was a late bloomer).

It was interesting to notice how I reacted to the words “clitoris” and “labia” being shared as information for my daughter.

My initial reaction was of alarm…this is too much information! Then I thought…um, this is a diagram OF HER OWN BODY. Why did that feel shameful to me…like something she shouldn’t know about?

Why on Earth shouldn’t she know what the parts of her own body are called?

Upon reflecting about this today, I couldn’t help but think about the #metoo movement, and how women are taught that their sexuality is shameful…or worse, that it is something that is not their own

That their sexuality is it something that belongs to others, to men. That it is something that a woman gives away or hides…

That it is not her own.

I don’t want my girls to believe this incredibly dangerous LIE.

So, I will answer the questions as they arise…even when they make me uncomfortable….

Even when it’s just because someone misspelled Virginia. 

Day 97/365 Dirty Girls

You may not know this about my mother, but she always has worn the tool belt in the family.  That’s right, when my brothers or my ex-husband have needed to borrow a tool – say, a bandsaw or something along those lines – they’d call and ask my mother, not my dad.

My mom tells the story like this – when we were little she and my dad bought a swing set for us kids – an assembly required, big ass swing set.  My dad was a busy guy.  He worked full time but also served on many boards, and was a town councilman for a few years. He did not have a lot of “free” time – you know, big-ass swing set assembly kind of time.

So the swing set sat out in the yard in pieces for I’m not sure how long. One day, my mom’s friend, Polly, came over. Talk about bad ass.  Polly did (and still does) it all.  She asked my mom what the deal was with the un-assembled swing set.  My mom explained that we were all waiting for my father to have the time to assemble it.

“Why the hell do you need him for that?” asked Polly, incredulously.

Why indeed?

So my mom and Polly dragged out whatever tools we had at the time (the collection of which has grown considerably since my mom started asking for power tools for birthdays, etc.) and they put the big ass swing set together themselves.

This was when a lightbulb went off in my mother’s head…

I can do whatever the hell I put my mind to doing.

So she bought a book titled something like “How to Fix Just About Anything” and she started doing things like wiring, plumbing, tiling floors, refinishing furniture…

One day I came home to a crashing noise upstairs.  As I climbed the stairs and started down the hall, I realized the sound was coming from my bedroom.  I walked in to find her in my closet, blasting a hole through the wall with a sledgehammer. She peeked her smiling face through the jagged hole in the sheet rock like Jack Nicholson breaking through the bathroom door in “The Shining”

Heeeere’s Mommy!

She sweetly said, “This closet is just taking up space in your room.”

“Oh.”

I mean, what does one say in that situation?

Um…thanks?

The girls and I went over to make dinner at my mother’s the other night. She knew we were coming, and the girls ran out of the car into the yard to find her when we arrived. There was evidence of her hard work everywhere (fresh mulch, yard tools…) but she was nowhere in the yard. I could see Beau getting a little nervous. Since my dad died six months ago, she is always worried that my mom will be soon to follow. (I like to blame this kind of paranoia on my kids, because of course it never is a worry of mine.)

Well, it turns out she was just in the shower. She emerged a while later and announced, “You know it has been a good day when you have needed to take two showers.”

(Meaning – you got good and dirty.)

God, I love this woman.

And so, whenever I fix things, use tools of any kind…whenever I do something myself that I initially felt I might need a man to do for me…

I think of my mother.

When my girls dance in the mud, create, invent, repair, risk…

I think of my mother.

I know they will be strong women,

Brave women,

Women who are not afraid to put together big ass swing sets.

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