Confessions of a Recovering Hate Monger

orlando gay rights protest signI’ve been struggling for months as this election and mass shootings and bathroom bills and all the issues that make the news cycle spin keep drawing lines across my relationships and through my own view of the world. It’s hard for me to reconcile people I love, like, and respect holding views that, through my lens, seem cold at best and downright hateful and bigoted at worst.

It just doesn’t make sense, I’ve told myself. And yet it must.

I’ve known there was some piece missing, some key to understanding that remained just beyond my grasp. There had to be – because the good I experienced in these people with whom I fundamentally disagreed was real.

This week the code was cracked and my confusion fell away.

The dissonance has been within me all along.

The rallying cry of my people–those of us who identify as liberals and progressives–is that love is love. What tears societies and families apart, we say, is the inability to love what we cannot understand, to hate what is different. We’re talking about those people who hate people who are gay or trans or poor or people of color. We wrap ourselves in the armor of knowing that our side is right because ours is the side of love.

Everyone knows love is better than hate.

We were reminded of that this week when a man filled with hate massacred 49 people in an Orlando gay bar. In our collective grief, we unfurled our flags and trumpeted the horns, vowing to continue loving and calling on our brothers and sisters to do the same.

But oh, my friends, how I have hated. How I have failed to love what I cannot understand and what is different from me.

I’ve thrown around the word bigot and distanced myself from friends who haven’t understood racism in the same way I’ve come to. I’ve questioned intelligence, rolled my eyes, and dismissed the cultural relevance of those who would oppose me.

I have not loved my neighbor as myself. Instead, I have joked about the evil that surely must reside in the house down my street where a Trump sign is staked. I’ve never met that neighbor–don’t even know what he or she looks like–but I’ve denounced them as evil in a 140-character quip.

I have been righteous in my defense of love but failed to use it where it was most desperately needed.

It’s no wonder I’ve been so confused. My own hypocrisy has been churning in my gut, integrity fighting to resurface while I succumbed to the basest of human instincts.

I want to do better, but what does that look like in a world where we face serious problems with devastating consequences?

Does loving my neighbor mean that I no longer speak out against men like Donald Trump? Does it mean that I excuse myself from the gun debate or stay silent when I witness bigotry rearing its head?

No. Love means continuing to champion for progress. It means saying what I believe to be right and true even if it is uncomfortable. But it also means refusing to lose sight of the humanity in each of us. It means seeking to understand and remembering my own imperfection. It means finding common ground, always, because it is always there.

My mother taught me that women everywhere are concerned about their babies; they want them to be safe, healthy, and happy. Of course that’s an oversimplification–all women don’t even want to have babies–but she wasn’t too far off the mark.

We want our loved ones safe. Most of us want that even more than we want our own safety.

We want health and happiness. Desperately. What divides us most is how to get there.

I’ve debated with myself whether people in power–or those who seek it–have purposefully sought to obscure our commonalities in an attempt to win some philosophical game. It does seem plausible that very smart people with a lot of luxuries to lose might actively take steps to rally factions and incite segmentation so as to more easily subdue and control a population. It’s not all that difficult to imagine, especially if you watch any primetime TV. But I’ve decided that the motives and MOs of any possible power players don’t matter.

We don’t need to bow to some mystical figurehead in a high castle. We the people have the ability to come up with smart solutions and complicated compromises. We have the capacity to learn from one another, to make progress while conserving what is already good and right.

But it can’t happen if we continue to fight. We cannot work together under our separate banners of hate. Our only hope is love, to extend love beyond what is easy and comfortable. That means checking our intellectual egos at the door, holstering our fear and mistrust of one another, and coming to the table with humility and the basic consensus that all of us want the same thing: to be safe, healthy, and happy.

Perhaps that’s an overly idealistic dream, but what can I say? I believe in the power of love.

Are You Being Yourself When You’re Being Mom?

We were enjoying margaritas and fancy tacos after a gallery event when a friend shared with me one of her most recent projects. “I’m trying to spend more time as… you know… Katie*. The Katie as opposed to the mom.”

She went on for a couple minutes about things she didn’t enjoy doing – playing kickball or going to soccer games, maybe, I don’t know; I was having trouble paying attention. Finally I stopped her.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t understand. What do you mean being Katie instead of Mom? Who the heck are you when you’re Mom?” I was genuinely confused by this delineation.

“See? That’s why I told my therapist I need to spend more time with you,” she laughed. She elaborated, “You know, there are so many things you have to do as a mom that you don’t necessarily want to do.”

“But you’re always you,” I insisted.

Apparently, as I learned from Katie, there is a school of thought that suggests Motherhood is a separate experience and even identity from Personhood. Motherhood is caring and giving and selfless and tireless. Mother feeds, cleans, caters, chauffeurs, entertains, and guides.

I disagree. Motherhood is many things, but it is not the replacement, even temporarily, of a person’s very being.

Motherhood is one of many roles a woman can play. It is an evolving stage of life and, at times, a list of tasks: feed, clean, cater, chauffeur, entertain, guide. But it is always a whole person doing those jobs. Furthermore, I am not merely the tasks I do, and neither is my motherhood defined by them – because motherhood is a relationship.

…motherhood makes sense when you realize that it’s a relationship. Loving and nurturing your child is the relationship you have with your child. That’s why when you have a bad day as an adult, you still want your mom (if you have a good relationship with your mom) even though she isn’t making your meals, changing your clothes for you, driving you to work, or doing any of the stuff moms of kids do.

All the stuff that has to be done for kids, though, those things are jobs. Changing diapers, researching carseats, driving to soccer practice, washing clothes, catching vomit with your hand, putting to bed, filling out forms, searching out a replacement wubbie on the internet,  making lunches, making dinner, making breakfast, making snacks. Many of those tasks are not that brain-intensive, and are not valued highly, across all societies. That’s why a) motherhood sucks so much, b) it’s devalued so much, and c) wealthy women have always outsourced as many of those tasks as they could, until recently, so they got the relationship but not the jobs.

–Magda Pecsenye, askmoxie.org

How can I possibly expect to have a healthy, functional, satisfying relationship with my children if I show up as anything but my absolutely authentic self?

Make no mistake: the mother-child relationship is not the same as a friendship, just like it isn’t the same as a relationship between spouses. Relationships are not identical and in many cases they are not equal; there is a distinct difference in power and responsibility between a parent and a child.

In my relationship with my children right now, I am in charge of their safety and their well-being. I am responsible for them in a way they will likely never be responsible for me. My love for them is also deeper and more complex than their love for me, which is why I take a weird joy in sacrificing big chunks of my life for their growth and happiness and they have to be reminded daily to get their dirty underwear off my floor.

Embracing the relationship of motherhood does not mean being your child’s best friend, but it does mean honoring your role as a whole person in the two-person dynamic.

being myself as a mother

It means my kids know I listen to music that isn’t sung by life-sized puppets and watch TV shows that aren’t about preteens at summer camp. It means they know I love fried chicken and the color pink, and that I will always love Prince more than anyone else. It means they know I have a tendency to be cheer loudly and dance in the aisle of the grocery store, and that sometimes I stay in bed all day because I am too tired and overwhelmed to do anything else. It means they know that I try to speak up when someone hurts my feelings because I think my feelings matter, and also that I’m learning to apologize more often and fix less. It means that I will almost always be nicest to the person who is nicest to me and that I will not under any circumstances accompany them on a night hike through any incarnation of wilderness.

As with any relationship, there are boundaries. My kids don’t get to watch True Blood with me and they can’t listen to TuPac until they are old enough to understand nuance. I didn’t tell my toddlers about my inability to finish college as a young mom, just like I didn’t tell my neighbor about my marital challenges upon first meeting her. I share new parts of myself with my kids over time, as appropriate, as they and our relationships develop and mature.

But holding back does not mean becoming someone other than myself, ever.

I do Mom jobs and make Mom rules and set Mom boundaries, but I do not put on a Mom Mask.

Sometimes this bites me in the ass. I don’t enjoy the crown of Supreme and Perfect Ruler in my home because everyone has seen too many of my flaws. I am not infallible, and my children often seem hell-bent on disproving my philosophies on everything from “acceptable hygiene” to “origins of the Universe.” At least once a day I regret my decision to relate to my children rather than mold obedient subjects.

On the plus side, this sometimes inconvenient honesty challenges me in remarkable ways. If I need my children to see a better example than I need to become a better one.  If I want to teach my children to have strength of character, I have to work harder to cultivate character in myself. My commitment to authenticity forces me to work towards a version of myself I’m proud to reveal to my kids.

That’s not to say my relationships with my children are perfect; they are even less perfect than my relationship with my husband. I have spent hours wondering if I’m pushing too hard or not hard enough, if I should be more or less involved in their day-to-day activities, if I should have put my foot down more on room cleaning or going to church. I am by no means a parenting expert.

But on this one thing I am confident, so confident that I give the same advice to my children.

Be yourself. You don’t have to show all of yourself to anyone, but always make sure what you share is true. At the very least, you’ll know that whatever happens next is real, and you will not have lost yourself in the process.

What say you? Do you feel like you can be your real self with your kids?

*Story told with permission. Name changed to ensure my friends keep having drinks and interesting conversations with me.

Don’t Call Me a Guru

…if they’ve found a cause that sparks their imagination, ENFPs will bring an energy that oftentimes thrusts them into the spotlight, held up by their peers as a leader and a guru – but this isn’t always where independence-loving ENFPs want to be.

-ENFP Profile, 16personalities.com

 My 16-year-old son is currently obsessed with the Myers-Brigg personality types, insisting that everyone he knows gets tested. That’s how I found myself confirming what I’ve learned through dozens of online quizzes over the years– that I’m an ENFP-sometimes J–and rereading various profiles, because I genuinely love to read what strangers on the Internet think about who I am as a person.

I read the above quote, and in the blink of an eye the last 18 months of my life made perfect sense.

I have no interest in being a guru, and even the word expert makes me uncomfortable. I have a lot of experience in various fields–maybe even some level of expertise–but the term expert suggests that I have specialized, narrowed my focus down to one thing, and that’s something an ENFP could never do.

I want to know and do all the things.

The world is not set up that way. We’re supposed to pick a ladder and climb it until the ladder gives way to rings for which we’ll leap. But all I can see is that there are so many interesting ladders to choose from! I want a little from column A and a heaping spoonful from column B and to spend weeks swinging from the rings atop column C. I don’t want to run up the diagonal line between X and Y; I want to twirl in and out of concentric circles.

But that is not the route to success, so says They.

And yet, I have met the most amazing people with so many past circles and lives to share. I’ve met a priest who once taught high school math and owned a donut shop and was a high-powered entertainment lawyer. I’ve met a scientist artist and an engineer musician and a real estate broker turned traveling writer. I’m impressed by the heights to which moguls climb, but I’m fascinated and obsessed with these magicians who pull multiple lives from one lifetime.

I care not about impressing myself; I want to be fascinated and obsessed with my days.

I’ve branded myself with a reminder.

new tattoo

When I quit my last job, I teased my husband that I was going to get “don’t hire me” tattooed on my arm because I seem to be incapable of turning down opportunities for which I am only qualified in the short term. But really, I cannot be trusted not to put myself in positions where I can excel but slowly die under the weight of politics and tediousness. So, in part, this new tattoo is a sign to potential employers that I am more creative than corporate and to myself that I must always stay true to my center.

The jobs I’ve held the longest and truly excelled at? Writer. Editor. Teller of stories and creator of communities. That is where my magic happens, and I’m back to owning the shit out of it.

 Starting with this blog restart.