It is Saturday, November 14. I am sitting outside on my back patio at the glass dining table. The patio is the entire width of the back of the house. It is one of the things I first fell in love with when I saw the house come on the market this past summer. Sometimes I still cannot believe it is ours. The wind rustles the leaves in the trees in my backyard, the shadows of the limbs and leaves dancing on the cedar fence and lawn. Whispy white clouds look stagnant high up in the sky. Lower, cotton-ball-like-clouds move quickly. The sky is blue ombre. I hear the beeping sounds of a truck backing up in the distance. The distant sound of cars driving on I-35. Jake and Bella are outside with me and something just startled Jake into a barking frenzy. There are leaves strewn about the patio mixed in with remnants of play: a plastic ice cream cone, a measuring cup, a plastic cup, a Wonder Woman shovel, Juniper's wet pajama shorts hung over the back of a chair to dry. Earlier this morning she attempted to pour the water from the plastic cup into the plastic ice cream cone. She succeeded in that endeavor and as a bonus poured water all over herself. Hence, the drying shorts. Yesterday as we were walking we found landscaping timbers on the side of the road, someone digging them out and disposing of them. One person's trash is another person's treasure. I asked David to grab some and cut them up for loose parts play in the backyard. He grabbed three and the small people watched from the other side of the back sliding door as daddy used his saw to cut the three timbers up into pieces of various sizes. Sabina wondered if they could be piled up on the new-to-us roller coaster and slow down the coaster car. Bina tested her hypothesis. It worked. The scientific process in action.
The practice of noticing and writing these words soothes my mind, my body. When I take the time to simply open my eyes to what is right in front of me in this moment, right now, I find peace and contentment. There is so much in upheaval, so much uncertainty right now. We have been in Austin for almost eight weeks and are feeling much more settled than we were the first few. We have established a routine of sorts. Met new friends and reconnected with old friends. Sabina has a little gang of neighborhood kiddos. Juniper likes to tag along with the big kids. The neighbor friends all learned how to ride their two-wheelers at about the same time. They are out almost every day now after they're done with school, riding and practicing their new tricks. It makes my heart happy to see them playing together. They discovered our backyard a few days ago. I love seeing the ideas they come up with. Playing family at the picnic table and outdoor play kitchen. Setting up the baseball T beside the end of the roller coaster and riding down the track holding the bat, trying to see if they can multitask. They can. What a special gift neighbors can be. I am so grateful. If the world went back into lockdown, we have friends right here.
A couple weeks ago a potential job opportunity arose and led me and David down the path of considering me being the one to go back to work and he the one to be home with the small people, homeschooling. This is a possibility neither of us had considered before. But now it makes so much sense. We are both excited about the prospect and this past week I applied to four different positions back at the University of Texas at Austin. At this moment we are committed to this path. Even in the midst of uncertainty, we take steps toward our goal knowing that whatever may come, we will figure it out. I do not have to know everything, I do not have to have every step laid out for the next five years. I can take in new information, change course, pursue something new, and find that this is the course that brings me life and if I had gripped my plan so tightly that I was not willing to see any other way, I would have missed this. Curiosity. Compassion. Leaning in. Writing a new chapter that I never saw coming. There is room for all of it. Life is fluid, always changing. It does not have to look one way. There is not one path to success, not one path to wholeness. No. There are many. As many as there are people on this earth. And in this moment I am excited about my path.
After listening to Brene Brown's Unlocking Us podcast on Burnout with Emily and Amelia Nagoski, I ordered their book. It is magical, illuminating so much dysfunction and offering solutions, ways to complete the stress cycle. I started running again because of it, which has exacerbated my hip problems and brought on ankle problems. I am hoping maybe the stronger my body gets, these problems will fade or resolve. Time will tell. At any rate. The patriarchy, ya'll. It is everywhere. In everything. One of the reasons I am excited about going back to work and David being home with the small ones is because it flips gender roles on their heads. And it just so happens that one of our neighbors across the street is a fellow stay at home dad. What are the chances? Anyways. I have been noticing the tendrils of the patriarchy so much more. I am watching Heartland on Netflix and oh. The drama of men having to ask grown women's fathers for their permission to marry them. WHY. Why is it a conversation between men? Does not the woman have her own brain to make her own decisions? Why does the father walk his daughter down the aisle to pass her off to another man? WHY. As if she is the property of one man, and then the property of another. Fuck that. Fuck the patriarchy. Women do not need the permission of a man to make a decision that is hers alone to make. Women do not need men passing them off to other men. Women are not property. They are full human beings in and of themselves. Full stop.
On to bodies. I hate the patriarchy. Smash it. Smash it to bits. I hate diet culture. I am FOR bodies of all shapes and sizes and the knowledge that size is not synonymous with health or lack thereof. At my thinnest, I have been my sickest. Thin in this body signifies anxiety and distress and an inability to eat. My stomach is not flat. And you know what? Bellies are meant to be round, not flat. I remember watching a documentary on Taylor Swift and her admitting that she did not know it was not normal to feel like she was going to pass out after a show. Seriously what the fuck. What have we done to the minds of women. The bodies of women. One of my goals for this year was to put weight back on that had been lost due to anxiety and distress. I succeeded. And you know what? I find myself uncomfortable in my body because of the patriarchy and the societal standards of beauty it has created. Then I read in Burnout that bellies are not supposed to be flat. They are supposed to be round. And it was like something switched in my brain. Yesterday, for the first time, I wore a pair of shorts and a tank top and tucked part of the tank into my shorts in front and I did not hold in my belly. I tried on a few tops and felt uncomfortable. I went back to the first one I had picked and looked at myself in the mirror and thought: I am embracing this body as it is. It was actually hard work NOT to suck in my belly because I am so accustomed to doing it. Did you also know that bodies change over a lifetime? Who came up with the narrative that people gain weight as they age because they are letting themselves go? The patriarchy, that's who. Fuck the patriarchy. Fuck societal standards of beauty. I am the new hotness, as Emily and Amelia Nagoski declare in their book. I AM the new hotness. My small people are not going to grow up seeing me fret about a number on the scale or the ebbing and flowing of my waistline throughout the day and night or over months or years. My small people are not going to experience fad diets. My small people are going to see a mama who is comfortable with and proud of her body. Who fights bogus standards of beauty. Who models embracing herself as she is and turning to herself with compassion and kindness, gratitude and awe. I hate that this has to be a fight. I hate that this is not the norm: loving yourself. It is a fight for me. Maybe for them it will not be because of the work I am doing now.
This work is exhausting, ya'll. I am tired. I get irritable. I have to apologize over and over and over again. And I do, because it is important for my small people to see a parent who models that. Humans make mistakes because humans are humans. The difference between a growing human and a stuck human is whether or not one can admit wrong and apologize. Without excuses. Rupture and repair. Over and over and over again. The work of parenthood. In the midst of this pandemic, after a cross country move, as we adjust to a new home in a new state: the consistency of repair after rupture is what matters. We are not going to do this perfectly. We are perfectly imperfect. Wonderfully human. We can embrace our humanity and pursue kindness. Pursue justice. Pursue community. Call to account those who perpetuate abuse, oppression, injustice. Again. And again. And again.
My younger sister came to visit for two weeks from Los Angeles. A couple days before she left we got matching tattoos. Something I did not think she would ever agree to. Ha. The tattoo, for us, symbolizes Texas and California. The two places we now call home. The homes we make for ourselves. We broke free from family systems of oppression. Made a life of our own. She made hers in Cali, I made mine in Texas. Los Angeles and Austin. These places will always have our hearts, whether we live here forever or not. They symbolize our liberation. Stepping out into the unknown. Making a break. Cultivating relationships with friends who become our family.
My mom resides in Tucson, Arizona with my bonus dad. All three of us, my mom, sister, and I, headed west. Interesting, isn't it? I am living the life I want, with the people I want. I am no longer making time for abusers and oppressors. They are not worthy of my time or my effort. It is not my job to save or change them. The only person I can change is myself. This year I made some huge changes. HUGE. Huge. Changes. Accomplishments. I will list them here. Roughly in chronological order.
Set boundaries around our involvement in extended family Christmas gatherings. Prioritized what I wanted for the first time.
Supported David in his resignation from my family's business.
Learned about narcissism and narcissistic abuse and recognized that it explained key relationships in my life.
Severed relationships with the narcissists and their yes men.
Updated our living will and trust.
Refinanced my house and ended a relationship with a private lender.
Went through the process to become the trustee of the trust fund my paternal grandfather setup for me.
Obtained financial independence from one of the narcissists.
Led a group of beautiful mamas through the shutdown over zoom once a week.
Recognized areas where I had been acting as an oppressor and did a 180 (re: LGBT+ rights).
Began the process of deconstructing my faith.
Decided with David to return to Austin.
Traded in our Ford Edge for a Chrysler Pacifica (best decision ever).
Prepped our house to sell in three weeks time, including a massive purge, packing, and staging.
Survived getting the dogs and kids out of the house for showings and open houses during a pandemic.
Bought a house sight-unseen in Austin in our old neighborhood.
Sold our Michigan house after the first contract fell through.
Moved down to Austin in the midst of a pandemic with the kids, dogs, and a big pile of cash.
Unpacked and decorated our new house in Austin.
Found a new therapist in Austin who happens to have the same name as my one in Michigan.
Joined a homeschool hiking group.
Found a place for Bina to continue riding lessons in Texas.
Made friends with new neighbors.
Supported other mamas struggling with mental health along their journeys, vulnerably sharing my experience and directing to helpful resources.
Joined a support group for mamas.
Navigated the big emotions of my five year old, giving her what I knew she needed to feel safe and secure.
Refused to succumb to a flailing abuser/oppressor's attempt at making themself the victim.
Beginning to learn the art of honoring myself instead of betraying myself.
Voted for Biden and a straight blue ticket for the first time in my life (I voted for Hillary in 2016).
Applied for four jobs and counting.
Gained back the weight I lost last December/January, and more.
Navigated changing insurance and finding services in-network three times.
I am a badass. I can do hard things. When I stumble and fall, I collect data about the experience and get up, adjust, and keep going. I challenge narratives that no longer serve me. I craft new narratives. I manifest the life I want. Right here. Right now. I am so proud of myself. At the beginning of this year I was reeling from the realization that I was the object of narcissistic abuse for 33 years. In January I turned 34 and I tolerate narcissistic abuse no more. David, Sabina, Juniper, and I are crafting a new legacy. Not one of conditional love, manipulation and control, enmeshment and enablement, but one of unconditional love, authenticity and respect, kindness and healthy boundaries. I choose life over death. Self awareness over sticking my head in the sand. I choose to make big blunders and learn and change and grow. I choose to do hard and scary things. I choose to trust my gut, to listen to my intuition and know that whatever may come, I will figure it out. I. Will. Figure. It. Out.
And right now, I embrace the beauty of this very moment. Sitting at our outdoor dining table on my back patio. Listening to those rustling leaves. Hearing the neighbors behind us toss a volleyball back and forth. Watching Bella dig a little hole in the dirt to make a comfortable dirt bed to lay in. Breathing deep, in through my nose, out through my mouth. In through my nose, out through my mouth. Considering all I have accomplished this year. And it is not even over yet. Anticipating life ahead, full and messy and wonderful and awful. Living it with the people I love. Home in Austin. Safe, seen, soothed, secure. Ready for whatever is to come.