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#41: word to your mother: international women's day

I listened to an On Being (Krista Tippett) interview with Sandra Cisneros today before I even knew it was International Women's Day. Cisneros is one of my favorite writers. She wrote my #1 all time favorite short story ever, "Eleven" (from Woman Hollering Creek) and one of my all time very favorite books, The House on Mango Street. I learned that Cisneros is funny, charming, and humble, and has struggled periodically with depression. I also learned that she has actively chosen a life of solitude. When asked, her advice for young people was to: (1) Earn your own money so you're not dependent on anyone; (2) Control your fertility, so you're not saddled with a life you didn't choose; and (3) Appreciate solitude as sacred. Seems like a perfect message for International Women's Day.

I was on my way to Ames at the time. I volunteer at the Iowa Wildlife Center. Every weekend, I drive up and tend to the animals -- the education animals (snakes and turtles and bats) and the rehab patients. It is my favorite thing since taking a break from music. (By the way, the wildlife center was founded by 3 women scientists, one of whom -- a wildlife biologist, Marlene -- still runs it, single-handedly.) Every weekend, I do things I never at any point in my life thought I would do. I wash dishes with a snake slithering around my neck. I hold bats and coo while I weigh mealworms to feed them. I thaw dead mice and disinfect water dishes for fox snakes waiting for spring (when they can return to the wild). I chat with a curious snapping turtle named Beak who is everyone's most attentive friend.

Fisher and Sandy, our favorite rat snake
Practicing a bat exam -- checking finger membranes (Photo by Fisher)

My work at the wildlife center is the only thing about me that my son finds interesting. I bring him with me sometimes. Fisher doesn't give two shits about my music. If anything, it annoys him. He doesn't think it's cool that I write songs, that i have records, that I play with a band. He hates it when I sing. The last time he came to a show, he said it was too long. But I handle snakes and bats.... now, that's something.

A boy from the neighborhood, A, comes by most mornings and rides with us to school. He and Fisher call each other "bro" and "dude", and I listen with amusement. Two weeks ago, Fisher and A found a small rubber snake in the back seat of the car. I don't remember where that little toy snake came from -- the dentist? the state fair? -- but A put it on the console by my elbow and snickered. He thought he was playing prank. I then heard Fisher tell A, "Dude, my mom's not scared of snakes." He said it multiple times. There was pride in his voice. I smiled at him in the rearview mirror.

Fisher's mom is not afraid of snakes.

I know that I am more than just "Fisher's mom", but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care what he thought of me. Fisher is an only child, and I am his first and most prominent representation of WOMAN. What will that mean to him? Years from now, will he bring home someone frail and fearful? In defiance of me? Out of indifference to me? Or am I teaching him to value and expect a woman with courage? I want to be my best self for him so that he looks for this when it is time to look. Who is that?

Before Ames, I'd spent the morning with him, assuaging an intense case of MOM GUILT. I felt guilty because I hadn't seen him since Friday morning and hadn't planned on seeing him again until Monday afternoon. I felt guilty because I was enjoying the holy shit out of my freedom and solitude. I woke up this morning spinning with the ever-familiar conflict. This doubt in my capacity as a mother is so ingrained and constant, it might as well be my pulse. While the sun angled through the window panes, I wrote in my journal, "Is it okay that I'm like this?... I hope [he] never feels abandoned by me."

The word "abandoned" looped in my head until I called my mother to change the plans and then picked him up from their house. Fish and I ran errands until it was time for him to return to his dad's house. I said "I love you" at least a dozen times: Perhaps the more times I say it, the more he will understand that my absences are a need for medicine rather than a lack of love.

Solitude is my elixir. I cannot think of anything that it does not cure... except Mom Guilt.

My son is eight, and I have yet to reconcile my need for solitude with my need to be a solid and present mother. I don't know that this reconciliation exists, so I remind myself that radical acceptance is likely the only solution to an unsolvable conflict. On "International Women's Day", I finally understand myself to be complicated, and I wonder how that will show up in Fisher's life as the son of a complicated woman.

But aren't we all complicated? Isn't that the human condition: Complicated?

I googled International Women's Day. I learned that it is celebrated on this day -- March 8 -- all around the globe: Armenia, Russia, Kazakhstan... all corners of the world uniting to say: Women are human beings worthy and equal in value. And I think that must also, by default, mean that we ALL, as women AND men (however we identify), are free to be complicated and subtle and epic and ordinary and embraced and solitarily worthy exactly as we are.

That is plenty.

Word to your mother.

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