What Financial Abuse Looks Like

When I was married, financial control didn’t look like abuse.  It looked like fairness.  It was only fair that all the money went into a joint account.  It was fair that we went over the bills together, even if he made all the decisions and set all the budgets.

I had to discuss major purchases and it was only fair because he was the primary breadwinner.  The majority of our money came from his paycheck, not my financial aid and scholarships, surrogacies, or benefits our kids with autism were entitled to.  He was the head of the household, so he made the decisions.

Avid readers can tell by now that I’m a bit rebellious.  Secret checking accounts and student loans happened.  I was still mom, so much of that went to groceries because the budget he gave me, but never shopped for himself was hard to stick to. It resulted in arguments with my shoulders rounded and my gaze at my feet.  It was a time for me to resort to being a sulking teenager, not a wife or equal.

I applied for credit cards with terrible credit and no job and when I got them, he would help me max them out.  When the bill came, we could never afford to pay the bill I created.  Credit was a bad idea because you have to pay it back with interest.  (At the same time, my individually improved credit has opened a few doors for me, starting with my car.)

It didn’t look like abuse at the time.  It looked like equity based on his rubric.  It looked like power and our actions against each other became cyclical and damaging to us both.

Personally, I was frustrated.  I had a book addiction, and often bought Amazon gift cards for my habit while grocery shopping because hiding the purchase amongst groceries sometimes worked.  I hated feeling like I needed permission to spend my allowance.  I would scour clearance aisles and freak out about how to hide it later. I wasn’t big on purses, shoes, or jewelry.  I bought things for the house and worried nervously about the fight I would cause by the new dishes, or trash can I brought home.

As I found other ways to hide my acts of rebellion, he found ways to investigate my actions and uncover my lies.  There was no trust and it looked like a power struggle where dominance wore the farce of fairness.

In 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms.  At the time I had a car that was a danger on the roads.  I could only drive it in a lower gear, the brakes were faulty and the seat belt didn’t always work.  I would drive it half a mile to the train station, but take the train to work at my part time job, and walk.  I was newly discovering a gluten free diet and avoiding sugar because my doctor scared me with pre-diabetes.  Walking seemed healthy.  I walked 5 miles and that night woke up with leg cramps only to find out the next day that my birth control pills tried to kill me and walking so much didn’t help. The greater question that I didn’t dare ask at the time was, why couldn’t I drive the safer car to work? Where was the equity when I was taking the train late at night alone, worried about my safety the whole way?

Having that relationship end, different articles and stories found their way to me.  It was through friends and online.  The concerns my sisters voiced for years finally landed in ways that I couldn’t deny.  Mine isn’t even an extreme case.

Some people are battered in their relationships but the abuse is more than physical.  If there is physical violence, there was certainly verbal, emotional and financial abuse before during and most definitely after it. The most invisible form of abuse is financial.  It’s about an abuser having control over their victim.  In that way I suppose you could say my rebellion was abusing my ex and calling it control. Money is used to isolate and control victims.  A victim can’t always move out or leave if they don’t have the means to.  It’s about not being able to do anything because you completely depend on someone else.

I was allowed and even encouraged to work, but I found a balance in staying home for my kids, and going to school for myself.  He often told me what kind of work I should do as a suggestion, but it felt like control. It felt like I had his permission to be a teacher, even if I hated being in the classroom.  Even if I did work, I knew I wouldn’t have control of my paycheck.  Now I enjoy work.  I’m much better at making money than keeping a clean house. (I’m okay with this.  You should make peace with it too.)

In my last relationship, I had a hard time asking for his financial advice or support.  I didn’t want to give him control or cooperate with what he felt was best.  He didn’t want to blindly throw money my way to help out because he didn’t trust me, even if we were living together. We didn’t trust each other. Money and control became a problem and rather than do what he asked, I stood my ground.  Other relational situations shifted the balance in what made a relationship worthy of growth and our relationship didn’t continue. He was intelligent, with a background in finance, and an ability to get and keep my attention.  He was and is special.  At the same time, I couldn’t in any way relax into a situation where I couldn’t control my finances.  Strength or weakness, it’s who I have become.

I have a purple purse charm I have kept on each of my purses for almost two years now. Allstate has ways to support women that are financially abused. I didn’t buy it for them, although my purchase supports them. It has become a symbol of hope and strength for me. It has become a reminder that I don’t need permission to buy my kids clothes. I get to make choices and create the life I want to live. I’m not a tree with deep roots. I’m free. My tassel sways with the freedom I feel in every step I take. Even if I’m not financially stable as a funempolyed single mom, I am free.  And I am in a much better financial situation than I was under someone else’s financial control.

I am not affiliated with Allstate or the Purple Purse Charm and I have no monetary investment in this (or any of my posts to date), but if you would like to support their work, or at least learn more about financial abuse as domestic violence, please click here.

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Micro Midlife Crisis

When I was younger, my dream was to have enough disposable income to have someone else clean up after me.  That’s as far as I got. When I started college, it was about doing what my parents wanted me to do.  I didn’t want to go.  My mom wanted to send me to Thailand for the summer and I refused.  (It was about a boy and not my smartest move.) I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I was one of those students that kept taking electives, hoping it would point me in a direction.  It pointed me in many directions and nothing was really calling to me.  (In hindsight, taking your core requirements will do the same and keep you from wasting time.) I ended up taking classes on and off for so long that by the time I got my BA, the kids starting in the fall were born the year I graduated high school.  My 20 year reunion is in less than 2 weeks.

When I became a wife and mom, my goal was to be really good at that and put my family ahead of myself. I wanted to support my ex. Unwinding after work was his right, even though I was exhausted with an infant. He wanted to disappear for a weekend of paintball, then it was deep sea fishing and eventually his rap concerts and I stayed home with our kids. It never occurred to me to have a night with the girls. When I finally did get “me time,” it was time spent running household errands alone. (I know how to party.)

I got a call earlier this evening from a friend having a freak out moment that I’m really familiar with.  He was bothered that so much of his identity is tied to his relationship with his kids and the people in his life and he realized he didn’t do anything that was just for himself.  He was so involved in the success of those around him that he forgot to sort out his goals and line up his accomplishments.

My first freakout like that happened in my early 20’s.  I was a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and had no idea who I was anymore.  I lost touch with the girl that loved shooting pool, smoking cigarettes, drinking with friends, beach days, and hiking to Sturtevant Falls from Chantry Flats.  Even when I was doing those things I was unsure of what I loved, and what I was doing because it’s what my friends were doing. I could handle being home alone but not being out alone. 

In early marriage and motherhood, it was so easy for me to get caught up in being who I thought I was supposed to be.  This person took care of the house and did it with a smile.  I looked at motherhood as something that didn’t fit what I grew up with.  My mom went to work, then came home for snuggles.  I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. My Dad stayed home with me or both parents worked alternating graveyard shifts so one of them was always available.

As a new mom, I tried to follow what my ex had as an example growing up because he loved his mom and I wanted to be like her.  It’s hard to fit an ideal that was never yours and that was colored by the fantasies of a little boy that may not have a clear understanding of the realities of motherhood from the perspective of a mother.  Her input (innocent as it was) always made it seem like I was failing.  I just couldn’t do it the way she did.  It nearly broke me.  I sometimes joke that I will do my best to ruin every relationship my kids ever get into by being amazing now, but really, I only hope they find someone to love them like I do.  I hope to never make a woman or man feel like they are lacking because of the ideal of what I view as my daily shortcomings.  Yes, I have boys, but we live with the expectation that gay or straight, I will always love my kids.

When I looked at my life and realized it wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like, I tried to work within what I was capable of to transform my life.  I started small.  I got curious about subjects and would spend hours reading about topics that interested me.  It started with bees and gardening, jewelry making, cross stitch, crochet, scrapbooking, and for a while I started making soap with fat and lye.  Eventually having lye in the house was way too scary because I had small kids.  I still have my soap molds, and have happy thoughts about getting to the “trace” stage and may pick it back up one day.  (You’ll just have to look up soapmaking.)  This helped for a little while.

Eventually, I went back to school. I needed to finish.  When I went back it wasn’t about my parents.  Finishing school became my goal.  I wanted my degree.  I wanted to earn that class ring.  I never got my high school ring because I always expected to go to college. When I decided to go back, I remembered how much I loved being in the classroom.  I loved the discourse and the moments when one person would make a profound observation that would shift my perspective into a new interpretation.  I loved that feeling.  A man that can shift my perspective with a sentence is one of the first things I look for in dating, and why I often spend my kid free weekends alone.  (Reaching the bar I set is a really tall order but he has to be smart.) My education is the one thing that was all mine, and could never be taken from me.

I had another moment of awakening earlier this year.  I wrote about it here. I had been doing things the way I was taught for so long that it became my expectation. When I had the freedom to do it my way, it took a while to realize I could. That realization felt like freedom.

My big midlife crisis happened when my ex had his moment of realizing his life didn’t look the way he wanted it to.  When he left, I was lost.  I could handle the things I was already handling.  I had the bills in my name.  I had been the handy person around the house, or I knew who to call.  I knew how to exist in the ways I needed to.  What I didn’t know was what I wanted my life to look like.  I didn’t know what my life should be now that I was only obligated to my boys and myself.  It was scary because I had to figure out what I like to do in my free time now that shared custody means I have so much of it.  I’m still figuring it out. I was recently asked what I like to do, and I listed my usual field trips, but I’m still searching and I hope I never stop searching.  

I was listening to house music again for the first time in decades on Friday.  It felt like urgency.  I couldn’t stop dancing in my seat and it probably looked like I had to pee.  It probably made me feel like I had to pee.  But it was amazing in the memories it brought up of raves and dance crews (shout out to the Kinky Dolls . . . anyone?), being known and handed drinks when I entered a party . . . Yeah, and then there were some things that don’t need reminiscing.  The music was a reminder of a time I had forgotten in the dark alleys of motherhood martyrdom.  

I spent so long being a wife and mom.  I was a student, then I graduated, and I had decided my kids couldn’t become orphans to the stacks, so my next goal of law school will happen once my nest is empty.  I had fluid ideas of what I wanted to do on our next camping trip or what my next job might eventually look like.  I had to start figuring out where my happy places were.

I started bullet journaling.  I really should get back to it.  You can look up bullet journals online and there are many amazing variations.  It’s about finding one that works for you.  Mine ended up in a three ring binder with different sections for my goals. I had a daily “to do” list. I had a calendar.  I had long term goals and 18 month plans.  I had a list of books to read and movies to see.  I had financial plans and outlined the way I wanted to shape my existence.

The daily to do list was a list that was marked in some way each day.  It wasn’t enough to write a list that got crossed off.  I had a box next to each item and I would mark those boxes as in progress, completed, rescheduled (with a date), and cancelled (with a really good reason for being cancelled). I was accountable to myself to work toward my goals every single day.  Right now I have a cork board with my long term goals listed.  The bullet journal had deadlines. My white board has short term plans for me and the boys.  But the bullet part is what was driving me to do more each day.  To get back into it, I would need time to daydream.  I need to visualize what I want my life to look like.

It won’t be solitary.  I can do solitary, but I’m ready for partnership.  I’m ready to support and be supported.  I won’t fear what was and color the future with it.  I’m sure I’ll find him because I’m open to looking in a way that I wasn’t a couple of months ago.

It will include road trips and local adventures. I’ve never been to San Francisco or Catalina Island.  I want to explore and be a tourist.

It will include my boys, but there will be things that are just about me and maybe friends or a special someone because motherhood doesn’t mean I need to be a martyr. (If I say it enough I’ll believe it and the guilt will fall away.)

It will include mountain sunrises and streams and beaches at sunset.

When my friend called tonight, I was excited.  There is so much power and possibility in realizing that your life doesn’t look the way you want it to.  There is so much potential in that realization because not everyone can see the disconnect.  He arrived at a place where he can slay dragons and rescue princesses.  He gets to be his knight in shining armor with Prince Charming hair and damsel in distress and that is the greatest gift he could give himself. I’m excited to see what his life will look like in the next few weeks.  More than that, I’m excited about the ways I get to start my planning and plotting again.

A midlife crisis isn’t the end.  In my marriage, it was the end that opened up an amazing start. It’s a place to embark on your next phase of amazing.  It might suck in this moment, but this moment tells you where you’ve been and which direction you get to lead in.  You get to lead your life!

Have you ever had a dream you let go of? What’s stopping you from picking it back up? 

Reaching out of Isolation

I like being alone.  It’s my default preference.  It’s safe.  When I was younger I was often in my own little corner of a shared bedroom, playing alone because my feelings were often hurt and I was able to play with my vivid imagination and not get ignored by big sisters that I couldn’t relate to, or neighborhood kids with better gross motor skills than mine.  (Kickball and pickle are all fun and games until you can’t keep from kicking the ball onto the roof, or catch the football without making it bounce off of your hands after you just threw it like a flailing duck that should be shot.)

My mom saw my isolation as a gift in ways that I couldn’t.  She put me in gymnastics, dance, and swimming.  She knew I wasn’t cut out for team sports. Drill team doesn’t count.  That was a self inflicted hell on my knees.

In elementary school, I connected with two beautiful girls.  They saw me and called me “friend.”  We did sleep overs and car washes.  They introduced me to Guns N’Roses and Metallica.  I survived elementary school because of them.

Middle school happened and schools changed and I had one or two really great friends I saw in school and one that I had slumber parties with.  We would steal her mom’s car in the middle of the night and learn to drive together, always trying to replace the gas we burned off, joking about our shenanigans and confessing as legal adults about what we did at 14 years old.  My isolation meant that when I graduated high school, it never occurred to me to collect contact info because I wouldn’t just see these people on Monday or after summer break.  I would go home and enjoy my solitude.  I burned too many candles, read a million books and listened to music that made me feel things.

When we were barely legal, my best friend would pick me up for nights at house parties and raves that included drunk driving and dancing on go-go boxes while taking off more clothes than I would now.  It was wild.  I was broken and as much as I loved her, I eventually pushed her away with broken parts trying to maim others.  I wasn’t a nice person.  I married in the years we were apart, and when I was pregnant with Kid1, she found the space to forgive me for the ways I hurt her.  She is amazing and still the most beautiful and powerful woman I know.

As remarkable as she is, I pushed her back again. Looking back, pushing her away the second time had nothing to do with her or with me.  I pushed her back because my ex didn’t like her.  I pushed my guy friends away because they couldn’t see what I saw in my ex, and I was choosing the man that promised me forever for the friends that gave me forever without needing to make a pledge.

One of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship is isolation.  If your person needs to be your only person, it’s worth looking long and hard at.  If your person is open to friends becoming family, there’s a good chance there’s nothing to hide.

Isolation from people by my marriage was a gradual process that didn’t look like denied permission.  It looked like I had a boyfriend that my friends didn’t like and made fun of.  I wasn’t asked to choose, but I couldn’t stand seeing my ex feel hurt by them, so I chose him and walked away from my friends.  There was good in that too.  They accepted me drinking like a fish and smoking like a dragon.  He wanted to wife me and make me a mother and I wanted to stop because that was what would have earned his approval.  His friends became my friends and I let my friends go.  Eventually, his sadness looked like he needed to get out and have time with the guys.  I understood that because I needed it too, but I had pushed them all away.  He would go out and I would stay home with the kids.  He had concerts and paintball, and I stayed home with the kids. I stopped looking at strangers because I was worried he would get jealous if I got attention from someone else.  After Kid1 was born, there was an incident.  We lived in a 30 unit apartment building.  There was a man visiting another unit that left the building smiling at my ex.  There was a fist fight in front of our building over a smile that made me look like a cheater.  I felt the need to become invisible and I got really good at it.  I had the perfectly formed incentive and I loved him too much to see that as scary.

A lot of what I’ve seen in past relationships has made me very hard on potential dates.  It doesn’t take much for me to kick a new guy to the curb, down the gutter, and then seal off the manhole.

When it comes to my kidlets, isolation was about protection.  My kids had sensory needs that had them poopy painting on walls when they were younger.  They like being naked.  We used to replace all furniture every single year because of destructive kids, and really, they’re still destructive.  I need to replace my broken dinner chairs again.  I have a home in various states of broken.  Right now it’s the chairs and the motor on my jetted tub sounds sad.  I have a paper towel dispenser that I need to screw back into the wall and a toilet paper dispenser that became a toy before it was thrown away.  It hasn’t been replaced yet.  It will be.  When I get around to it.  But inviting people into the messiness when I’d rather just escape until they are home and I want to stay home with them hasn’t been a priority.

We’ve been sharing custody for a year now, and in this year I’ve been going out alone a lot.  I go to the beach or a museum. I’ve started hiking and being a tourist in my hometown.  I love it.  It doesn’t require company.  I’ve in the last couple of weeks decided I don’t want to be a lonely cat lady.  I’ve recently started meeting people out and about.  I don’t mean my one date allocation for men.  (I will one day go out with a guy more than once and the cute Italian guy I couldn’t understand doesn’t count.) I mean, I’ve been going out with people I know, and not just one on one sessions where I can get stuck in a session of complaining about life.

I have a tribe.  Our friendship was mired in the trenches of transformation that looked like 5 days of screaming and crying.  These people are remarkable and bigger dreamers than I am.  A few of them have had events and asked for people to show up.  I decided that when my tribe calls, I get to show up.  It’s a stretch, but it’s not without it’s rewards.

I don’t drink often or much. I don’t drink around my boys often.  Last week I had a gluten free beer and ended up fairly drunk.  I wasn’t trying to get drunk. I just wasn’t trying to waste a full beer. I’ve started having a drink while out enjoying a solitary dinner, then sobering up completely before heading home.  I’m a grown up.  I can do these things.  As a wife, I was often our designated driver.  I could never handle my liquor and even when I was drinking, I was a lightweight.  Add kids, and I often felt like I couldn’t drink. My boys spent so many long nights in the emergency room at random times for crazy reasons.  I was afraid of what it would look like to not protect my kids from themselves, and show up drunk in an emergency room full of mandated reporters.  I had to be the designated driver because one of us had to be sober in case of emergencies and it was always me.  I can’t tell my kids to never drink and drive, and then be the drunk driver strapping them into car seats.

Yesterday was busy.  I had my brunch around 11, and went to meet friends for a show and a drink.  Literally, one drink.  I know better, but decided I could do it because I didn’t have a curfew. I was nicely sauced and everything was insanely funny.  It was great.  The thing that was different was I wasn’t alone.  I was there with several of my tribe.  I had a first. It was the first time I was mothered while drunk by other women.  Again, I rarely drink and hardly ever get drunk in public.  It’s usually a drink with a meal, and never on an empty stomach.  These women walked with me.  We talked and ate and visited for a while.  When it was time to go, they wanted to be certain I’d be okay.  It was a unique experience and it hit me that this is what happens when you are a grown up drinking with people that care about you.  My best friend in my youth absolutely loves me and loved me then, but we were both immature about our choices.

It’s made me want to stretch my isolated parts.  I never have company at my home. I have excuses about why I never have people over.  I live on a tiny one way street with no parking.  I have a messy house that my boys treat as their personal natural disaster.  I have repair jobs I haven’t gotten around to because I plan to fix them all myself when I’m nome, which is when the boys are home and I’m busy running around catching up on laundry.  I never have people over.  Tonight I will.  A friend needs a crash pad to save on a late night commute into a different county, and I’ve offered up an empty kid bed.  All year, I’ve had one girlfriend and that cute Italian boy over.  For him, that was the night I realized I couldn’t keep seeing him because I finally broke through the sexy accent and I could understand what he was saying.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll consider having a small gathering or soiree or shindig.  I doubt it though.  Parking still sucks, and that means I’ll have to be home on a kid free day.

Shadow Boxing

The class I took about a two weeks ago was intense.  Think of it as 5 years of therapy in a span of 5 days. It was 5 days of screaming and crying.  It was 5 days of seeing who I am and appreciating who I show up as to others.  It was recognizing the areas in which I get to grow. It was digging deep to pull up every horrific situation I have faced.  It was a purge that first ripped off the bandaid, scrubbed the infection out and included a battle cry like I never had permission to release before.  It echoed deep inside of me and frightened me with intensity. I left the class feeling so raw and freshly healing from being broken, yet unencumbered by the weight of my own design.

We wear layers of mortar and bricks in walls of protection because that is what we create as safety. We don’t worry about the weight until it’s lifted and there’s freedom.  Aside from feeling like I put my body through more than it could handle, I felt freedom.  I was flying.

My lessons are I get to ask for support.  I get to let others in.  I get to offer transparency because I don’t need to carry my burdens alone. I don’t need to be fake or plastic.  I don’t need to be timid and afraid. I don’t need to be a martyr in the name of love.

It’s been about two weeks and life keeps happening.  I’ve had a few issues come up.  I’m flexible enough to call an audible and shift into where I need to be instead of landing on the sidelines, out of breath, dazed with fresh turf stains on my lucky jersey and dogpiled under too much sweat and weight.

Shifting analogies, yesterday and this morning handed me a cross, uppercut, and roundhouse kick combo.  As I was bobbing and weaving, juking and jiving, I realized I can handle this.  I’ve been shadow boxing for years and this scenario is my normal.  I flow around what I’m facing with ease in a way that doesn’t disrupt a whole lot.

I changed my mind and met opposition, but got to stand in the empowerment of my own choice. I didn’t have to get nasty about it and I felt stronger for that.  When I was looking for work, I was selective in my job hunt.  I didn’t want to drive far and I didn’t want to give up my mornings or dinners with my boys.  This was what was important for work that I would get paid for.  When looking at what I was planning to do and the distance and time away from my kids, I decided now is not the time for that commitment and I get to stand in my authority over my life, and it feels good.

I got a call that says I’m a bad mother that neglects her kids and I get to face that accusation.  I’m still standing and have no problem functioning through it.

I read a text that says my family needs me and yet I’m helpless. I get to rise in unexpected ways with an open heart. I get to do what is requested in the humility of knowing what is in my heart is right for me, but not necessarily right for the situation.  I get to accept that I don’t know all of the answers.

My morning greeted me with an anonymous text that asks for more than I will ever offer, and I didn’t lose my calm while at work.  I didn’t snap at the stranger that has no business in my affairs and was presumptuous enough to engage in a conversation without announcing who they were.  I extended this person the pity I have for my ex. Not everyone can walk in the audacity I catwalk in.

I got to dress up for role play in my class almost two weeks ago and at the end of the month I get to do it for Halloween at work.  I mean, matching bra and panty sets make me happy, but I never even got into dressing up for sex. And we’re talking sex.  I’m not excited, but this won’t break me.

I realized with all the hits to my ribs that make me want to cringe and protect my vital parts, I’m used to this.  This is my normal.  I can function.  I can fake until I’m ready to hide away and lick my wounds, but how much stronger is it to rely on friendships and let others hold me up.  I had that last night.  Under a full moon as planes flew high above the hills in Los Feliz, I sipped a margarita surrounded by my tribe and told them my latest drama.  We joked and laughed and just enjoyed each other’s company. The weight of my day was heavy but by the time I left, I was so uplifted in the love that surrounded me.  There was silliness and I eased into being surrounded by people when I’m usually most comfortable alone.  We talked about the nice Jewish boy or Ginger I want to meet.  We talked about needing to be supported and ways I’m still growing.  I held a sweet baby that reminded me that I’m doing well enough with my kids, that an infant would trust me and laugh in my arms.

Last night reminded me that I don’t need to shadow box and prepare for an onslaught.  All I need to do is stand in who I am and accept that there’s a tribe ready to welcome and carry my burdens with me, if I’m willing to share what they are.  If I’m willing to share the load (in a not creepy or sad Samwise Gamgee kind of way) I don’t have to do it on my own.

And my friend’s margaritas are mixed with love and magic.  I learned that too.

Rise

“Rise”

I won’t just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can’t write my story
I’m beyond the archetype

I won’t just conform
No matter how you shake my core
‘Cause my roots—they run deep, oh

Oh, ye of so little faith
Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Victory is in my veins
I know it, I know it
And I will not negotiate
I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it
I will transform

When, when the fire’s at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They’re whispering, “You’re out of time,”
But still I rise

This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in
Think again
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise

I must stay conscious
Through the madness and chaos
So I call on my angels
They say

Oh, ye of so little faith
Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Victory is in your veins
You know it, you know it
And you will not negotiate
Just fight it, just fight it
And be transformed

‘Cause when, when the fire’s at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They’re whispering, “You’re out of time,”
But still I rise

This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in
Think again
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise

Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Oh, oh, oh, oh
You know it, you know it
Still rise
Just fight it, just fight it
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise

These are the lyrics to the song Advanced 139 chose to represent who we are. Powerful, right? It’s not the Katy Perry version but a cover by Boyce Avenue.
Last night I was challenged. It was a stretch for me.  I was to embody Beyonce and be empowered by it.  Oh my goshness.  It was rough and there was a really raw feeling that settled in my belly and held me hostage most of the day.
There are many people that love Beyonce, but I’ve never really been a huge fan.  I still haven’t even listened to Lemonade.  The album hit too close to home.  Waiting for my ex to decide he wanted me back for 11 months is not a feeling I want to revisit.  I feel stronger now.  I feel confidence and joy I didn’t feel before.  I feel freedom for the first time.  Listening to that album didn’t feel like something I could handle, so I’ve avoided it.  I loved her music in the early days, but there was a disconnect in who she is.  I tend to love music, while ignoring the person behind it.
The prude in me sat in judgement of her.  I’ve never seen the skin she exposes or her dance moves as empowering.  We have different styles.  I will step outside of the voice in my head, steal a hug from a man and tell him how appreciated his beauty is.  But it’s about sexualizing someone else for my needs, not caring about theirs.
“You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you for loving your body as much as I do.”
“Thank you for that public service that looks like your exercise routine.”
Spreading her legs on her back . . . Crawling on all fours . . . Exposing her flesh to turn someone else on always felt like putting her sexuality in service to someone else.  It’s her agency but it felt like she’s giving it to someone else because he wants it enough that he’ll claim ownership of her. It says more about me than it does her.  Madonna has done the same for years, but there’s this distance she has.  She hasn’t seemed emotionally needy in decades.  It’s also possible that I over identify with Beyonce and I see in her the parts of myself I don’t like.
I spent years using my body to please others, rarely ever enjoying the encounter myself.  I’ve found my power in satisfying my needs, rather than trying to please someone else.  I’m in a place where offering my sexuality is a gift I’m offering because I choose to and it’s no longer a gift just because someone else wants it.
I posted a selfie video on my Instagram on September 19th.  I almost took it down because I thought of it being used by someone else to live out a sexual fantasy.  I decided to leave it up because that would have been me catering to someone else’s fantasy, rather than enjoying the moment of confidence and satisfaction I was in when I made the video.
I was asked to empower myself by being transformed into Beyonce.  I had to dress in a way that I wouldn’t dress.  My bra was visible through my shirt last night.  I wore pleather shorts, much shorter than I’m used to, with high heels that I nearly fell in.  I stumbled and almost took a few ladies down with me.  It was epic.  I was cheered through it and it helped me get through the ridiculousness.
The big part of what I was asked to do was to empower myself.  How amazing is it that people who have known me for 3 days could decide on day 4 that my biggest discomfort is in empowering myself? They don’t see my insecurities at work when I’m asking and double checking what I know because I’m afraid of making mistakes.  They don’t see me shrink back from fighting because it’s easier to not fight and walk away than use my voice.  I know I could hurt others.  I choose not to because hurting others hurts me even if I’m being attacked, but also because there’s uncertainty . . .   Sitting in the shadows as others move forward unable to use the thoughts that just don’t shut up in my head . . . They don’t see me silencing myself when with family or my ex.  They didn’t see that the only place I’ve found confidence is in fighting for my children.  In this moment, I can see that as the past because I’m a badass and change is a choice I can make today and continue to make.
Last night, we left it out there.  I powered through my fear in bravery.  I stumbled through cold, in heels that were a little too big and trusting my feet or not, the shoes betrayed my ankles and I powered through in courage.  And through it all, I said, “Oh what the fuck? Do whatever it takes,” because in the end, it wasn’t about me but supporting and being supported in what I was doing.  I was being encouraged while allowing others to encourage me.
After the performance, I was lifted by my tribe. I was cradled, then held high above their heads as Beyoncé sang “Halo” and I sang along with her. My walls were tumbling down. 
At the end of the night, I had rug burns on my knees.  I had several hands on my body.  I held so many people in my arms.  Rather than feeling dirty and used, and distanced by my own design, I felt open.  I felt so much love that while my heart was ready to burst with the trust I felt, I was okay with it.  It was a time of open hugs that offered more full body contact than I’ve had in really long time with men that were scantily clad.  I may have really enjoyed that too. I offered massages and gave massages.  It wasn’t payment for a negotiation of pleasure.  It was a gift and an offering of love.  Unconditional love and service to each other.  I was open to sharing who I was.  I was ready to let others in. I am ready to let others in.
I had a moment of just opening up in love to my Buddy.  He’s beautiful.  He’s kind, and generous.  He’s considerate. He’s a leader.  He’s everything I would want to wake up to in the morning, if only he weren’t gay.  I keep saying the perfect man would be gay but into me and he embodies this in a way that aches.
I’m committed to being gentle with myself, and opening up to others, trusting that being hurt by others might happen and I’ll face that set back with a moment to say, “Yes!” I’ll sit back, reassess, and move forward with an open heart because closing off only hurts myself.
The legacy I will live in will be to live in openness. I get to live and allow others in.  I get to live and in empathy, find empathy for myself because being connected to what I feel is a gift and I receive it in the present.  Each breath I breathe is the gift of life and each exhalation is my contribution to the world, and I can’t contribute if I hold who I am.  That will only make me suffocate.  There is no life when there is no exchange.  We rely on others to reflect, to connect.  It was a huge lesson last night.  I get to live in a way that doesn’t cripple my sons.  I get to live in a way that doesn’t leave them searching to heal the scars I’ve created.  I get to be the mom I want them to have and I get to ask them the questions and offer the answers that I wouldn’t have before because I get to let them in.  I get to let people in.

When, when the fire’s at my feet again, And the vultures all start circling, They’re whispering, “You’re out of time,” But still I rise.

15 Years Later For Me

If you are old enough to remember, you can never forget what you were doing when you found out about the attack on our country.  We aren’t used to bombs going off around us, or planes being hijacked in protest.  We are not accustomed to areas we should avoid because there are IED’s that were planted . . . Or once upon a time, bouncing betties never went off.  We aren’t used to seeing child death from drowning in an attempt to escape the violence in a place that was home or toddlers still with shock and covered in blood and dust.  This is not our normal.  When it happens, we remember.  Details may get fuzzy.  Who hurt us or why they felt they needed to will burn into memories that are never met with understanding.  The indelible mark on us all is the way we felt because unless we’re lucky enough to heal properly, this will be how we feel about this situation for the rest of our lives.

I was on bedrest.  It was a year and 9 days since I said “I do” and I was 34 weeks along with my firstborn.  He wasn’t gaining weight and his amniotic fluid levels were low, so I was in bed with him.  My husband was at work in Downtown L.A. as a security guard.  I’ve been asked, and I’ll say it here, I married for love, not looks or money. I loved his company and our simple way of living.  I lived for our late night Walmart dates of household shopping and our fishing trips in Big Bear Lake. I would’ve followed him into homelessness if it meant waking up with him every morning.  I would’ve cared for his every physical need as long as he let me and I did until he stopped wanting me to. I couldn’t imagine the years before us being anything but happy, and the ways our lives blended and solidified looked nothing like what I imagined.  I stopped dreaming and just took each day as it came.

The man I loved called me to ask if I had seen the news about  a plane in a building.  I turned on the news to a live feed and watched the second plane strike the second tower.  It was several moments of confusion for me because I was watching it live and it didn’t occur to me that a plane flying into a building would be anything but an accident.  I couldn’t understand how he could tell me to watch for something I was seeing live.  I didn’t understand how someone could do that intentionally.

I remembered my short trip to New York in June 1997.  I had a boyfriend that missed his grandmother and high school friends.  I couldn’t take care of myself as I was living with my mom, but I managed to take us to New York. We crashed Jerry and Nora’s wedding (no clue who they were).  We went to Roosevelt Field Mall (so much like every other mall).  We went to Six Flags Great Adventure (which looked a lot like Six Flags Magic Mountain). We went to a restaurant owned by models (who barely eat and I don’t remember if it was good), and we walked through Manhattan.  This is the only picture of me in New York I have.  Now if your boyfriend (on the right and shorter than me) is walking with you but doesn’t want to walk with you that is a problem.  He dumped me right after the trip.  We’ll always have that trip to San Pedro because in that moment, there was love. You can search “San Pedro” in my blog and see where I thought about this boy enough to include in a few posts.  The amazing thing about growth is that if I were to meet him for the first time today, what he taught me then wouldn’t get him a first date now. I miss that purse though. I need to go back to New York one day.

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New York was beautiful with its humidity and fast pace on the streets.  It was glittering lights and I would’ve loved to check out a play or visit the Statue of Liberty.  We rubbed the Charging Bull on Broadway and Morris and I imagined what it would’ve been like to be there in the winter with slush around my feet.  On the flight in, my boyfriend pointed out the twin towers and told me about the first attack in 1993 but I had no clue about the significance of the buildings until 4 years later when I was home and watching it.

I watched the news shift between New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania because none of us could understand why so much hate would take innocent lives.  I worried about my husband who had a duty to the building he worked in.  For weeks, we were still in complete panic that the next attack would hit closer to home, and he was in the heart of our financial district.  In the weeks following, his responsibilities included logistics around building safety.  He got an upgrade on his cameras and he made great use of them, zooming in on pretty ladies on the the street.  I was in bed.  Watching the news.

I couldn’t stop watching.  I felt the fear begin to cripple me into worrying about my husband and what I would do without him.  (Well, that question was answered and I’m doing fine.)  I started to react to the situation in the way I saw my Dad reacting to life.  He’s a war vet. He served in the Army and was there for the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam.  He sees a war torn America every day.  It’s a pair of glasses he can’t take off because PTSD won’t allow the present to be just the present.

I had this growing life inside of me that would tap and kick and roll.  I had him under my ribs, and resting against my heart and there was so much life inside of me.  I had to step into the faith that there is more good than bad in the world.  Instead of focusing on the many broken bodies carried out, I began to focus on the many helping hands that gave selflessly and the stories from the plane that ended up in a field after so many stepped bravely in spite of fear to keep that plane from hitting its target.

There was and is so much hate brewing in our country.  Ignorance has cast anyone in a hijab as a vile creature of hate and bigotry has become entertainment and worse, a political vehicle.  It’s disgusting.  I had the absolute privilege of carrying twin girls for a family of arabs that also practice Islam.  They showed me love and respect.  The father of the twins I carried wouldn’t even enter my room without my husband in the room out of respect.  I was floored by the value they place on their women.  I don’t agree with all they do, and I’m not trying to proselytize their faith.

I can simplify it by looking at my family.  I come from an international family.  By birth, my heritage is African American and Thai.  Through adoption and marriage, my family is also caucasian, Mexican, and Vietnamese.  If you want to trace heritage, I’m Mexican, Italian, French, Sephardic Jew, Choctaw Indian and a slew of other things that dilute blood from a slave ship from Africa.  I couldn’t begin to tell you what is on my mother’s side because I don’t know.  My boys are Dutch, Irish and Jewish.  We’re international.  Each of us is responsible for our own choices and we are a mix of good people you would trust with your wallet and people you might not trust (I hear my Kid3 steals from other people’s houses when with his Dad but he doesn’t have that problem when with me).

I can break it down in terms of food.  I love good food.  My food baby is well fed and my palate is frequently pleased.  Food joy can sound orgasmic. My international family means we have international foods at holiday gatherings.  Christmas will include a turkey and ham, but my sister and I have made loads of tamales and champurrado to go with her sangria.  What I’ve learned is that even if you come from Thailand and know how to cook Thai food, it might not taste good because not everyone can cook.  Your Italian aunt’s spaghetti might be homemade but you might still prefer a jar of Barilla to her labor of love because she could burn water without supervision.

We can’t judge a group of people on the actions of a handful of people that probably could have used more hugs than they got when growing up.  Bigotry and hate often look like fear.  Fear, like stress and guilt are within you and if you let it cripple you into bigotry, that’s your own fault and can’t be blamed on beliefs you are too afraid to try to understand or challenge.  Woman up, or man up, or tranny up.  Get that handled so you can do epic shit and look past what you didn’t understand to be more than you see right now.

I didn’t know anyone that was in one of those buildings that day until a couple of months ago, and she amazes me with her zeal for life.  She wasn’t in the building when it was hit, but she was in the building that day and in the city at the time of the attack. Her children and her work are her passions and there is so much room for intentional engagement when I do see her.  I know a rescuer who was a fire fighter at the time and she’s still tough as nails and likely suffers from what that dust did to her lungs. Both of these women are inspirations to me for getting through that as closely as they were and living a life that isn’t a prison to that experience.  They live.  In all they do, they don’t allow their strength and courage to die.   They are braver than anyone will ever give them credit for because it wasn’t born for recognition but for survival.  It came in silence and is not something they put on but who they are. They are amazing and strong women in every sense of what being a woman means to me.

In 1994, September 11th was the day I was baptized.  It was a day to declare my belief in the religion I was raised in.

In 2001, September 11 was the day our country felt hate.  A war was started and my children don’t know what it means to live in peace.  It was the starting point for many of us, and a mark in a long history for others.  It is the most significant entry in my son’s history books that I can give a first hand experience of.

In 2012, September 11  was the day I made a trip to the hospital to visit 6 day old twins and marvel at the fact that they were still alive even though they were born at 29 weeks. It was the first time Baby A was allowed kangaroo care, and I held her against my chest so she could hear my heartbeat and borrow my warmth.

In 2015, September 11 was a day of hope for me.  I had encouragement from my son’s principal because she saw me struggle through being a single mother and she knew what I needed to hear from her own walk through it.  I wish her the best in her new school. My family had just surprised me with groceries because I needed the help to feed my kids after their Dad left me.  That day showed me that I’m stronger than I thought I could be.

Today, it’s a day of peace. I get to hear happy sounds as my sons interact with each other and I steal hugs throughout the day.  I’m sipping coffee and I’m writing where the only editor in my head sounds like my voice and not what someone else might say.  Today, September 11 is a day of personal freedom.

How I Show Up in Romantic Relationships

I’ve had 3 conversations in the last few days that have really forced me to look at my romantic history.  The conversation last night was with a really great guy. He’s handsome and sweet.  He’s known me since my teens and he’s constantly calling me out to expect greater than I do.  He says, “How are you love?” and “Raise the bar, ma.” Decades ago I was the confident flirt.  If this expression of him were to meet me then, I’d be in trouble because he is dangerously hot and his emotional intelligence of women is off the charts. He’s capable of making someone very happy, but he would be settling.  He was shy and quiet when we were young.  I may have enjoyed him for that on more than one occasion.

We talked about what we want in romance.  I’m not polyamorous but we talked about it.  It’s about wanting a mental, emotional and physical connection with several people.  That would never work for me because I thrive in monogamous relationships. I like the idea that I’m on someone else’s mind as much as he’s on mine. I want to know that random things remind him of me and that he’s on the street and something about the person in front of him makes him think of me.  I guarantee that happens for me when he’s special.  When he’s special, I don’t have a poker face and I can’t hide it.  It’s written all over my face and it’s in my body language. When he’s special, I feel like who I am is bending around him into ways that make him a part of me. And yes, that scares me. I’m the type that gets a rush in doing the brave thing in spite of fear.  I would go with it.  I can press in without worrying about the future because there is amazing joy in the present.  But it scares me.

Yesterday I had a brief conversation about where I am in my dating life right now. I’m not seeing anyone and enjoying the many ways I get to date myself. I buy myself lingerie and flowers. I take myself to nice restaurants and museums. I catch beach sunsets and take long walks through beautiful parks. My dating history looks nothing like what I do for myself and if someone wants my attention, I have to first believe I’d have a better time with him than alone because my alone time is special to me. There aren’t many people I would give up my free time for. There’s an even smaller number of people I’d be willing to drive to and meet on their side of town. And if he wants to meet my boys, he’d have to be able to offer them more than my happiness. He has to be curious and intelligent and beautiful. . . So I date myself and my sex life is only in my dreams but that’s okay too.

My reality is that I was sexualized at a young age. I had men make me uncomfortable with their desire before I even needed a training bra. By the time I was the same age as my first born, I was having regular sex with a boyfriend. Through high school I had a few relationships that lasted over  a year and a half and my in between times were about learning to flirt comfortably.  I may have a problem with shutting that off.  It’s not on purpose.  Early college days meant many fleeting hookups.  Then I met the man I married. I had never had an innocent relationship that was just about making out.  There were innocent enough hookups but innocent relationships skipped me entirely.  My sexual history tells me the best encounters are the ones in meaningful relationships.  My last relationship isn’t one I would want my children to model.  So I’m cautious.  I’m a chicken shit.  I’m happy in my celibacy.

When I was younger, I would find someone that was full of amazing and I would very easily look over their terrible qualities.  I was having a conversation with a co-worker and naming out things that were part of my marriage that I now see were not normal, but her reaction told me how far from acceptable it all was.  It’s not okay to be jealous of platonic friendships to the point where I’d end them.  It’s not okay to feel responsible for how others see the man I’m dating when his actions will speak for him.  It’s not okay to feel bad about wanting to learn more and do better in life because of how that might reflect on someone else’s ambition. I don’t know how to be in a relationship that doesn’t walk all over me.  But I’m learning.

I had many relationships where it was very clearly just sexual on his part.  He would let me know in direct and subtle ways that I wasn’t the person he was pouring his soul into.  I would accept what he offered and hoped that I would grow on him. Like a fungus.  I was very big on settling for what I was being given. I was always in this perpetual state of hope that my love could flow through him and back to me, even if he consistently proved to me that it was just sex.

I’m learning.  It’s changing.

I look at my history.  Today would have been an anniversary for my parents.  They’ve been divorced since I was still in high school and I have a high schooler now.  I saw their dysfunction and persistence as normal.  Mom yelled.  Dad ignored.  When my ex said he was leaving, I became them.  I was my Dad that first night in packing and separating our stuff at 3 am.  I was my Mom in saying, “go.” I didn’t need him.  Then I was me, in my crazy need to hold on and fix it because I saw my mom hold on and try to fix it for so long.  It was all I knew.  They had rare moments of affection that skeeved me out, but I was too young to remember if they were ever madly in love with each other.  As an adult, I can see the ways they still love and care for each other, even if they still refuse to talk to each other.

As Mom, I see my kids in their good and their bad.  I see more than anyone else, and I consistently choose to love them deeply, even if there are moments I don’t like what they are doing.  I tell them they are consistent in who they are.  It’s my ability to be patient that fluctuates and it’s my fault if one day I lose my shit. This blog post was born from my need to step away and calm myself. As a mom and a daughter, love means I accept you as you are, without a need to change you because that would rob me of the gift of knowing you in your purest form and warmest light.  I want love to be about accepting the dark and the light and basking in all of the ways it feels to.

My latest goal is to love unconditionally.  Offering love isn’t the same as being in love.  There’s a difference.  I know it.  Lust and infatuation are very different from being in love and I’m aware of it too.  I’m a hugger.  I don’t offer a hug unless I know I can hug the way that feels good.  If it’s an arm or a side hug, I’d rather not bother.  If I feel I can hug you, I can offer transparency (in doses).  I can offer affection and build a person up with the amazing I see in them.  I’m going to let a person know when I randomly think of them because this is expressing love. When I get to the point that I know I would offer more than I have to give, that is a transition into being in love and that is where I step back.  I run away when it feels like my moods are dictated by how they make me feel.  That is what being in love feels like to me.  Otherwise I’m offering love without expecting a return. It feels good and in the offering I’m being selfish by not expecting an exchange or allowing myself to rely on them.