Saturday, May 23, 2015

Naked Parenting

This is not a blog post about my daughter. This is not about her behavior, or her flaws, or her strengths. This is about me as a parent.
Parenting is hard. I’m at an especially challenging point right now, and it’s tempting to believe I’m alone. That I’m the only parent who worries that I’ve lost my authority. That I’m the only parent who worries that I have failed, already, in 4 short years, and I have ruined her future. Because I do worry that. I feel like, as a parent, I have already failed in two significant tasks, and I’m not going to say what they are because this is not about her.
I pray for myself and for my daughter. I read books. I discuss options and strategies with my husband. I ask for help. I’m seeing a family therapist. I follow the advice of her preschool teacher. I don’t spank. I don’t threaten. I don’t say no and then say yes. I am doing the best I can, and it doesn’t seem like enough.

Why? Because when I do let down my guard and talk with people, I see their eyes widen. I see their mouths open with unformed words, shocked at what I am saying. Are they faking it? Are they truly not facing the same challenges? Or are they simply shocked that I’m being so open and honest about it?

I’m a pretty open person. I’m not particularly interested in maintaining some picture perfect façade. I’ve been told most of my life that a façade is important. That by being open and refusing to wear masks, I’m hurting myself and my career. But I persist in my openness. Whenever I do put a mask on, it’s so painful that I can only maintain it for an hour or two before I collapse in tears.

So here I am, standing tall on my blog, admitting it all to the world. Because I KNOW I am not alone. There are other parents like me. Maybe one of you is reading this. Maybe you are nodding your head, because you understand. You know what it’s like to hear about how “this method” works for 99% of children and to conclude, sadly, that you are in the 1%. You know what it’s like to second guess your every choice. You know how isolating it feels when you are with other parents and their “challenges” sound like a walk in the park. You know what it feels like to gather up your courage and admit something and see judgment in the other parents’ eyes.

We are not alone. That is a lie, designed to mire us in depression and resignation. I’m here, telling you, you and I are in this together. Our hard work is paying off. Seeing a family therapist or getting other professional help doesn’t mean we are failures – it means we are successes. We refuse to let pride get in the way of creating the best world for us and our kids. Stay strong. Comment here if you want to share. If not, send me a DM on Twitter, @elainefbayless You can be naked with me. I won’t judge you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gender Dynamics in a Dangerous World

I’ve been thinking a lot about men and women and marriage lately. It’s a tough topic. I’m in a little discussion group, which mostly talks about religion, and I’m the only woman. It’s a bit odd, but I enjoy it. It’s a respectful gathering and the fact that I’m a woman is not at all an issue. However, sometimes I get to offer the female perspective, and I love that.

Just yesterday, one man was recounting how he was trying to get directions from someone, a woman sitting in her car. He knocked on her window and she blatantly ignored him. Now, I think that was rude. But then, I pointed out, she was probably afraid of him. He was shocked by the idea. But it’s true. She was fearful of engaging with him, quite likely because he is a man and she is a woman. He didn't understand what I meant, so I told them about the time my life was threatened by a man I had never met before.

 “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Margaret Atwood

I was driving home from a concert, so it was late at night. I had my windows down and was singing. At the traffic light, as one does, I glanced around to see if anyone had heard my singing, and I saw the guy driving the car next to me. He smiled and I smiled embarrassedly back. The light turned green and I drove off, thinking nothing of it. At the next light, he honked, so I looked at him. He rolled down his window and said, “You are so beautiful. I am following you home.” I will never forget those words.

I gave him a “shut up, weirdo” look and rolled up my window. When the light turned green I shot off, going as fast as I could. He followed me. He continued to follow me, but I kept heading home, thinking this was a joke, this was not real, this was just coincidence. Surely he wasn’t actually following me home!

When I turned into my apartment complex, he turned in right behind me, and I panicked. I took off, speeding recklessly through the parking lot, trying to get ahead of his car. I drove to my friend’s building, but his lights were off. I pulled into a parking space and killed the car, slinking down in my seat with my heart pounding. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize my car. Maybe I would get lucky. Maybe this was still just a joke. I saw his car headlights drive past slowly, then stop.

In that moment, I knew it was me or him. My car was my only weapon. I saw him get out of his car and approach my space. It was time to go on the offense - if I had to hit him with my car, I would.
Starting the car, I rammed it into reverse and peeled out of the spot, barely missing him. I took a moment to look at his license plate and then floored it out of the parking lot. He followed. At the next traffic light, my foot hammered the air, toe anchored to the brake pedal, heel flying with adrenaline. I pulled out my cell phone and flipped it open, then shone the light towards him. It was time to call 911. The light turned green and he drove away from me.

I drove to the nearest restaurant parking lot and called a friend, my entire body shaking. We stayed on the phone 20 minutes, until I was calm enough to drive home. When I got home, I called the cops and reported him and his license number. They scolded me for not driving to a police or fire station.

Let’s pause for a moment. In what world is it my fault for assuming that a total stranger is NOT a threat to my life? I was at fault, apparently, for not running straight to a safe place. Before you blame me (and I know some will), consider what you would’ve done. Do you assume that any man who shows friendly interest in you is a potential murderer? Have you ever accepted a drink in a bar from a man? Ever been alone with a man you weren't related to? Ever had to go somewhere alone at night?

I spent that night on my couch, wide awake, with my gun next to me. If anyone unknown had come to my door, I would’ve shot right through it.

“I don’t know how women still go out with guys when you consider the fact that there’s no greater threat to women than men.” Louis CK

I told these kind gentle men my story, in a well lit coffee shop in Raleigh, and they were quiet. None of these men would threaten me. None of them would hurt me, or allow me to be hurt. But, because they are good men, good PEOPLE, it never occurred to them how dangerous life can be for a woman.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nature or Nurture?

The question of every mother: how much of this is my fault, exactly? How much is nature versus nurture? Because the world is all too happy to attribute it all to nurture. Oh, your kid has tantrums? You must not set strict limits. Your kid whines? You must give in when she whines. Your kid hits? You must be violent or weak. It’s your fault, whatever happens. Your kid behaves perfectly in public? You must be really tough on her – why don’t you lighten up so she knows she can make mistakes?
But the secret every mom knows is that so much of how our kids act is nature. Every mom I know with more than one child says you have to tailor discipline to each child, because they are so different. Kids aren’t born as blank slates. They are born with strong personalities –it’s just challenging to see the personalities when dealing with a baby who can’t talk.

I’m not perfect – I think critical thoughts about other parents at time. I’m sure parents think critical thoughts about me too. But if nothing else, being a mom for almost 4 years now has taught me that the whole idea of a blank slate is nonsense. As a mom, all I can do is nurture my child’s personality, not create it.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 18 years later?

So, as strange as this is for those who know me, I've never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, sure, I watched the movie way back in 1992, and enjoyed it. But when the TV series came out I didn't have whatever channel it aired on, so I never watched it. I always went for the cheapest TV plans, so I've missed a lot of shows over the years. Today I decided to remedy this blank in my TV education. After all, I like Joss Whedon, I'm a fan of sci-fi and strong women, and everyone raves about Buffy.

The first two episodes brought me back to those less than glorious days of the late 90's. Girls with long hair and short tops. White fingernail polish and pointed nails. Clubs that you can attend wearing dark slacks, a button up shirt, and sensible high heel loafers. It was a different time.

Speaking of different times, there's also the obligatory computer trope, with Willow as the "hacker." She casually mentions that she decrypted government sewer maps and has done an extensive computer search. Ironically, she had to think through the search phrases and group them herself, as there's no awesome Google formula to answer the question "Is tonight the apocalypse at Hellmouth?"

It's quite apparent how old the show is when "Booth" shows up as Angel. David Boreanaz plays the role and WOW he is young! And hot. His skin is so smooth, no 5 o'clock shadow, no forehead wrinkles. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him. 

The humor of the show is uneven as of right now. There's a hint of the campiness of the movie (at least what I can remember), like when Buffy points out a vampire based on his distinct lack of style. Buffy doesn't like her role as slayer, although it's not because she has moral qualms or concerns about her safety; it's more because, like, it totally cramps her style. She kind of wants to graduate from high school, although that desire is easily trumped when a guy she barely knows is in need of rescuing.

There's also a weird lack of concern about all the deaths. A dead student is stowed in a locker and school isn't even cancelled. After a mass murder at the local club, students are still at school just hanging out. This is definitely a pre-Columbine universe, and a pre-9-11 universe. 

Right now, the show isn't getting a lot of stars from me, but the first 2 episodes can be pretty rough. This is a show about a strong woman with a killer instinct, but she was built on a fish out of water premise - the title says it all. Buffy is originally a fluffy cheerleader, a very unlikely slayer, and clearly Whedon is trying to shift that persona. I'll be interested to see where he lands.