Hi. I’m 33.

by Alicia on July 22, 2015

It’s my birthday. I’m 33 today. That sounds old but doesn’t feel old. I never feel old, actually. Like, I have moments where I notice how much older I’m getting, but I never feel like I’m old in a permanent way. I don’t have any theories on that, I just think it’s how my mind works and I like me, so all of those are facts.

IMG_2186I do, like me. I think I’m great. Yep, I have pesky flaws and things I keep hidden, and things I’d like to change. But mostly I don’t think about those. Mostly I just think I’m fun, and a good listener, and an all around good person to choose to be around. I’ve changed my perception so so much in the past year and a half. I’ve been in therapy and it’s changed my life. I’ve always been an optimistic person, but therapy has made me more sure of myself. It’s given me more confidence in trusting myself, which is something I didn’t realize I was lacking, actually. I see it most plainly when my TimeHop app shows me Facebook posts from like 4 or 5 years ago, when I was desperate to prove that I loved everything so fiercely when really I was getting lost in not really liking anything enough to like myself. I didn’t, like myself. I was trying to be so many things, trying to copy so many pieces of different lifestyles around me, taking on the perceived joy of others and trying to make anything stick. At the time I wouldn’t have admitted I was mimicking, I would’ve insisted that everything was great and I was leading exactly the life I’d imagined. That’s what all my Facebook posts actually say. And ya know, maybe at the time I was leading a life I’d imagined, but it was the short version of happiness. So like, happiness in the short term vision of things I wanted to get done.

I wanted kids: check, times three. I wanted to be married: check. I wanted to own a home: check.

All before I was 30. Wow, Alicia, killer pace dude. No literally, killer pace cause it killed the voice I should’ve been listening to. Everything is slower now. I do less. From the outside you can probably count more hobbies, more things I’m involved in, more ways my life says ‘busy’. But inside my body, I take more time for me. I listen to me. I say no when it feels like I should, even with the emotional pressure to say yes for others. I take my time- with decisions, with discussions, with traffic, with my bank account, with the weeds in my garden and the dust in my house. I’m calmer, I take less personally. I try hard not to dwell. I drop a lot more when I can’t make sense of it. Not to say I don’t pick it up later, but I don’t circle around the hard stuff too many times, or for too long. I put it down and walk away. The answer will come to me. Not by forcing it. I say when I’m wrong. I try really hard to listen and not have an answer or something to contribute at the end of a sentence. I take time alone, unapologetically and I do not ask permission. I do not trade off my time for chores or expectations in return. When I get my time, when I’m feeling rebuilt, I’m happily extending myself to help others. No resentment, no tabs, no guilt.

I’m selfish. Because I’m the only person who has to spend all day every day with me. I have to like me, or this life is going to be very hard. I have to like me, or I won’t like you. I have to like me so I feel like my something to give is worth it to you. I have to like me enough to care that anyone I interact with, leaves with something worthwhile. I put me first. And that was hard, so unspeakably hard. I lost a lot. It’s hard to put things down and not know if that’s the last time you’ll hold it- figuratively or literally. It’s hard to face the emotional shrapnel of change, because it hits unexpected places, and leaves lasting impressions. The first time I really sat in the hard stuff and just…sat there, with it? Felt like I was burying myself so slowly in a dark, deep hole. I couldn’t see out, I thought ‘this is what it’s like now, awful and alone and dismal and without hope.’ And it was. It really was just like that: awful, alone and dismal and without hope. And it sucked. And I broke right down and was a shell of a human being. I felt nothing deeply, everything was too hard. And one day one thing wasn’t. And then the next week another thing was ok. Small shift backward into the void, and then one thing would go well and I’d hold it. And with therapy where I got to talk in plain language about what pissed me off and made me sad and what I was afraid of and what I really and honestly and truly wanted even when it was not what I had always said I wanted? Oh dude, power. I got some power back. I got some confidence back. I got my voice back, and a better version, like Alicia 2.0. And I like her. I really, actually do.

So in the year between my 32nd and 33rd birthdays- I changed. Slowly and deliberately changed. And I am awesome. And I don’t care if 33 is “my year”, or if this will be the year I do X, or Y, or Z or maybe nothing. I have so much on my to do list and absolutely none of it is urgent at all. Go celebrate my birthday. Take in a yoga class (if you’re local, there’s a free one at the river!). Go sit on your back porch alone with a drink of your choice. Go for a walk. Book your first therapy appointment. Write. Colour. Buy yourself dessert. Talk to yourself. Do something for you. You’ll like you, I think.

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Slowly, and then all at once. The Tweens.

by Alicia on June 30, 2015

It’s kind of how John Green describes falling in love in The Fault In Our Stars: “slowly, and then all at once.” That’s how Isabella became a tween.

I hate that term- tween. It’s so precious. So juvenile, and yet it sounds so sassy. Almost like it’s expected that there will be drama, which I guess is not that far off from reality. Bella has never been subtle at any point in her life, and the ascent (descent?) into the hormonal teen years has certainly brought the drama, quite a bit more quickly than I anticipated. I’m starting to think that’s the undercurrent of my parenthood: it all happens before I’m ready. I thought a lot about the tormented teen years, I prepared for it, I planned how I would rise above my own human nature and usher her through the tough emotions I can actually still remember feeling myself. But then one day I sat back and realized Bella and I were are battling more than talking, and that hit me pretty hard. I worry. I am worried. Bella is one of the most genuinely empathetic and caring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I forget about those parts when she talks back and stomps off and gives me attitude far beyond her years. I’m worried she’ll think I forgot them altogether by the time these hormones settle down and we get back to the same page. I’m worried I will forget all the great things about her, and instead we’ll spend the next decade wrapped in a tormented battle of wills.

I want her to be a good person, I want her to be polite and accommodating and gracious. I want her to be assertive and confident and accepting. I do realize she needs to learn those things before she can be them. I also begrudgingly realize she can take or leave any of those things as she sees fit, I don’t get to design her. But isn’t that one thing we do as parents? Mold our children into good people? I’m actually wondering this…is that something we are supposed to be doing? Or do we just guide them and then eventually, much sooner than we’re ready, just let them…be who they’re going to be? Even (and especially) if we don’t always like it.

Mom & Bella, Walkerville Nigh Market, June 2015If I could name one thing I want my motherhood to accomplish it’s that my daughters just keep talking to me, keep being open to me, that I can accept them for who they are. Not who they are because of what I’ve done for them. Not who they might be one day “when they get beyond this stage”. Not who they are on their best day, or how I picture them in their perfection. I want to not judge them based on how I saw their life turning out, I don’t want to compare my pinnacle to theirs. I think sometimes we see our children too rigidly as reflections of ourselves. Yes, I can see myself in Bella sometimes, I hear words I’ve said slide out of her mouth, she has mannerisms like mine, and a creative streak that right now looks like chaos but I recognize as exploration. She’s mimicking me because I’m right here, but she’s not a smaller representation of my actual 32 years of personhood, my goodness that’s so much pressure for someone just trying to be someone. It’s hard for them to decide for themselves who they want to be, what that person looks like, the struggle between fitting in and standing out, where the balance of their life can sit and be stable, where they can be independent but still connected. So the struggle for me as a mother is that I have expectations, and I want her to know them because I think they’re good and worthy expectations…but I don’t want either of us to feel bound by them. I don’t want expectations to run the undercurrent of our relationship. And just because she’s from me, doesn’t mean she’s like me.

I think what I have to do is just be honest with her: “This is tough for me, kiddo. I’m trying my best but sometimes I push my own thoughts onto what you say and I stop listening to your words. Even though I’m a Mom, my feelings can get hurt just like yours.” And follow it up with, “You can always tell me, you know, when you don’t agree with me. You can tell me if what I said to you made you wish you hadn’t told me at all.” (thanks, therapy!) Cause how powerful is that? For your kid and for yourself. Like, don’t scream it at me as you’re stomping up the stairs, maybe, but if you can just sit across from me and say “I didn’t really get much out of that, Mom” then I can sit in the sting of that for a minute and then try something different, perhaps better.

Perhaps better. I’m trying to do better. By seeing myself for what I really am right now which is frustrated and confused and kinda mopey and a little bit scared to be honest. And I think the girls can still see me as strong enough to support them even after I let them see some of the ways I’m flawed and weak. If it teaches them anything, maybe it will teach them to see themselves and trust that the process of failure will occur over and over their whole lives. It will teach them to honestly sit with the thoughts in their head, and try to make sense of what should stay and what can go. Bella is starting the long uphill climb of becoming a grown up, and it’s all so huge right now that it’s frustrating because she can’t see the point. Like, she just wants to be older already. Remember that feeling? And here I am trying to will her to slow the hell down and enjoy this part. We’re on two paths, maybe parallel and hopefully closer together than further apart, but we’re both simultaneously racing to catch up and slowing down to stay in view of each other. I don’t have a Right Answer, here. I wish I did. I don’t want to find it too late, but I sense there isn’t a Right Answer anyway.

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Being assertive, and being wrong.

by Alicia on May 11, 2015

Tattoo on woman's lower inner arm, text says itsevarma in script

The translation from Finnish is: ‘assertive’.

I’ve finally been asked a few times about my tattoo in public, from strangers, and I still brace myself for their reaction. Even though the very reason for its permanent placement on my body is both an affirmation and a reminder. One day my daughters may mother. If I could choose the one thing that resonates through the generations to follow me, it would be this: itsevarma. Assertive.

Speak. With respect, with humility, with confidence. Know that what you think is only what you think, seek to understand. Not to be proven wrong, but to add more layers to your position. Know what you know before you say it out loud. Be powerful, be confident, speak up. If you’re in a meeting or in a conversation thinking, “…but wait…” in the back corner? Wait for a respectful moment to put up your hand and point out the piece that you see a conflict with, and an option to avoid said conflict. If you feel belittled or insulted, choose to disengage completely or speak up respectfully. Know that there is always more going on than you know about. Be prepared to be proven wrong….and still feel like you were right. Be prepared to keep your mouth shut about that. Say no. Recognize that disappointing someone and being a disappointment are two different things. Make the choice to follow either the path of ease or resistance. Change your mind. Check in with yourself first before you check in with anyone else.

I’m a mother, but I’m not only a mother. I have built more confidence in my particular brand of motherhood with the more confidence I have gained in myself as a person. I have to completely separate myself from my children sometimes to gain the perspective that I need to know what I want to do. I started off being so angry that I had “wasted” years of my life trying on the hats of others, only to now recognize that the pain and discomfort I felt is actually growth. It’s where I learned what I’m like. It’s in the collection of all those moments of fear, anger, depression, confusion, shame, and doubt that I rounded out the edges of myself enough to know what to be assertive about. And to be unapologetic for the parts I just don’t care that much about.

Mothers’ Day feels like I’m borrowing it a little. From my own mom, and the lovely ladies that call me mom. It felt like I had instant confidence in my motherhood at the exact moment I gave myself permission to not worry about it so much. You could say that parenting is the most important job in the world…and I respectfully slightly disagree. I can’t parent what I don’t live. Instead, I think that mentoring is the most important job in the world. They’ll model what I do, more than what I say. They’ll see how I feel before they believe what I tell them. They’ll watch more than they’ll hear.

The word assertive is kind of like the word feminist. No one knows if you’re about to attack them after it’s said. For myself, it’s a declaration, not a battle cry. And I guess that’s how I mother too- in a series of attempts, rather than a victory.

Maë, Bella, Alicia and Annika, mothers day 2015, funny face picture in Jerry & Jenny's Diner

Like this picture. Let’s just be us, ladies. We’re pretty cool.

 

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I want my daughters to fail.

April 6, 2015

I want my daughters to fail. I want my daughters to fail so hard. While you talk of not burning bridges, I whisper to my daughters “maybe just take the river route”. Bravery starts at the breath right before the moment where fear renders you immobile. I mother from a place of comfort with failure. […]

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They DO grow up, eh?

March 18, 2015

I mean, that’s why we had kids, right? So we could watch them grow up? Participate actively in their development into functioning adults who hopefully contribute to society as a whole? So why the long faces when they do something that their entire life has been propelled toward? When my girls each started walking, I was thrilled […]

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