The Modest Feminist

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This past week I’ve been following an intense discussion about Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault and victim blaming. 

Mayim Bialik – an “aspiring modern Orthodox Jewish Woman” – wrote a controversial and highly maligned piece for The NY Times in which she seemed to connect her own beliefs about modesty with assault. I’m not going to spend a ton of time going over that piece, but briefly she made some very problematic correlations between her own escape from sexual assault and the fact that she is what she refers to as not a perfect 10, someone who focuses on developing her brain not her body, and someone who dresses and behaves modestly. I think people very rightfully called this piece out for all the problematic ways it tied victimization to dress and behavior, and how it very erroneously labeled itself as a feminist view.

But the entire debacle got me thinking about the topic of modesty in general. One comment I saw in response to Mayim’s piece was that one cannot hold an ethos of modesty and also be a feminist: that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. And I suppose, based on the most common notion of modesty, that statement is true.

In general, most public discussions of modesty are focused on women more heavily than men. Dress codes are predominately concerned with ensuring that women don’t show too much of their bodies so as to become a distraction. Whether that’s spaghetti straps, low cut tops, high cut bottoms, things that are considered too tight… the message is always that women’s bodies are both inherently sexual and inherently problematic, and that men need women to cover themselves up in order to be able to control themselves. We see this all over our culture, from school and workplace dress codes, to public campaigns aimed at protecting yourself from unwanted attention, to television series like “Counting On” – a continuation of “19 Kids and Counting” highlighting the growing Duggar clan and their Uber patriarchal worldview embedded in their conservative Christian beliefs. This representation of modesty is absolutely counter to any sort of feminist worldview, and in my opinion absolutely harmful in the ideas it continues to perpetuate both about women’s bodies and about men’s apparently animalistic sexual instincts. It contributes to rape culture. It sets up women to be responsible for the actions of men. It’s not ok.

Before I continue, I need to admit something. I believe in modesty. 

I grew up in a church that taught me about the type of modesty discussed above. It was almost always presented to me as about honouring the holiness of my body, but with the added need to protect myself and to not “tempt your brothers or sisters” (the brothers and sisters are in Christ – not biological, for those of you not familiar with church speak). You can imagine that this concept of modesty did not sit well with me long before I considered myself a feminist, and certainly after. In my late teens I had pretty much stopped going to church, and while I held on to some fundamental belief in God, I disposed of everything else. I was certainly anything but modest. For me personally, my times of greatest immodesty coincided directly with my times of least self respect. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT WHY OTHER WOMEN CHOOSE OR REJECT MODESTY – I can’t speak to their realities. I am only telling my own story here. 

As I started to return back to my faith, but this time cautiously trying to think through it all, I kept coming back to modesty. Because it had always been tied to harmful patriarchal ideas, I really had no idea how to navigate my feelings. On the one hand I felt it was a fundamental part of embodying my faith. Not in a turtleneck and long skirts kind of way, but more a maybe I don’t want my boobs to be covered by a 1/4 inch of fabric because it makes me feel like I’m disrespecting myself kind of way. And even in that, I felt uneasy, wondering if feeling like I was disrespecting myself was somehow the product of being told I needed to hide my body FROM MEN. 

I wasn’t sure what to think about modesty. I spent nearly a decade trying to figure it out. Why did I still feel compelled by the idea of modesty, and how could I reconcile that with my understanding of how harmful traditional conceptions of modesty were? Was it even possible to believe in modesty and feminism?

Modesty isn’t anti-feminist. Modesty, at least the kind focused on sacredness instead of sexuality, has nothing to do with controlling someone else’s behavior, or with making you more worthy. 

Modesty as it was intended is about honoring that which is sacred. That being the human body. Each human body, male and female. It’s about recognizing that the same sacred nature of God that required men to hide their faces and cover their heads, to stay behind the curtain because the sacred was so overwhelming – that same sacred nature is embedded in our very flesh. Many of the rules imposed over centuries are most assuredly patriarchal. But holy modesty is not about the rules – it’s about recognizing and honoring the sacred God who lives in us, not just spiritually but physically. 

The relationship between God and our physical bodies has largely been lost in modern Christianity. It’s one of the many things I so appreciate about my Orthodox Christian faith: the recognition that my flesh is as much a part of my story of redemption as my spirit is. And modesty as I now understand it is about accounting for this reality and honouring that which is sacred. Because encountering that which is sacred should not be something casual. It requires attentiveness, thoughtfulness, trust, respect, and holiness. 

There is nothing shameful about my body, and my worth is not increased or decreased based on my modesty. It’s my recognition of the sacredness of my body that increases (or decreases), and my requirement that I honour that which is sacred as a response of thanks, humility, awe and respect to the God who lives within me. 

Glory to God. 

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Tired is a State of Parenting

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I used to think I knew what tired was.

Tired was pulling an all nighter and not getting to bed until 10am. Tired was having to wake up at 3:30am to start a long road trip. Tired was working 84 hours in a week, running 2 hours a day at the gym, and still finding time in between to hang out with friends.

Don’t get me wrong – I really was tired then. Physically drained. I’d eventually collapse into bed and sleep on and off for 14 hours just to wake up groggy again. It’s not insignificant.

But that was single Brynn tired. That was me only having to look after me, only worried about my needs and eventually having the option to collapse.

Motherhood (and fatherhood) is a whole new kind of tired. It’s… exhaustion. Pervasive, continual exhaustion.

Let me give you an example.

7:15am – Wake up (I know this seems late, but I’ll explain)

7:15 – 7:30am – Dress, do hair/make up (if I have the energy), brush teeth, go to the bathroom, think about all the things that I have to do for the day.

7:30 – 7:45am – Help Tory with breakfast for the boys if not already fed (Tory usually gets their clothes and back packs ready for them and gives them breakfast). Grab snacks/lunch for myself. Make coffee. Pack school bag. Help with coats/shoes. Change the baby. Feed the baby. Help get everyone and everything in the car. Get in the car myself. Realize I’ve not had my own breakfast. Praise God that I still have my coffee.

7:45 – 8:45 – Drive the boys to school across town (or more often keep Tory company/distract Lazarus with food and drink while Tory drives). Drive back across town to school myself. Watch Tory drive away with Lazarus in the back screaming for me.

9 – 11:45 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 40% of the time. Spend 60% of the time zoned out/thinking of bills/appointments/parenting/schooling for the boys/wondering how Tory and Lazarus are doing/feeling guilty that I am at school and not at home helping out.

11:45 – 2 – Lunch time. Get food. Make any necessary phone calls. Chat with Tory. Feel relieved that I get a small break. Feel guilty for feeling relieved that I get a small break. Intend to catch up on school work. Avoid catching up on school work and instead browse Facebook and pay bills/set appointments and plan dinner. Hit the wall of exhaustion. Buy coffee to conquer the wall of exhaustion. Head to class.

2 – 3:15 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 20% of the time. Spend the rest of the time zoned out/ wondering how Tory and the boys are doing/ planning out the evening.

3:15 – 3:45 – Go home. Feel a wave of relief that I made it through another day of school. Relish sitting for a few minutes with the people I Love.

3:45 – 4:45 – Unload the car. Talk about the day, everyone all at once. Feed Lazarus. Make dinner. Try to pick up the house. Realize it’s futile as everything just gets messy again. Try not to be tired and snippy. Fail. Feel guilty for being tired and snippy. Feel guilty for Tory being tired and me not being home to help out. Feel frustrated that Tory seems so tired and wants a break. Feel guilty for feeling frustrated that Tory is tired and wants a break since having been a stay at home parent I know EXACTLY how he feels. Feel tired and want a break myself. Realize it’s impossible for us both to have a break at the same time, and that Tory has earned it more than I have. Accept I will just be a shitty parent because I’m too tired to parent well. Mope. Get over myself. Apologize to everyone for being snippy. Try to make up for it. Serve dinner. Contain Lazarus in his high chair. Sit down.

4:45-4:55 – Eat dinner. Discuss the evening plans. Remind the boys to keep eating 10 times each and sit down 5 times each. Explain the house rules for eating what’s on your plate at least once.

4:55 – 5:05 – Remind the boys to keep eating another 10 times. Release Lazarus. Consider cleaning the dishes. Decide not to.

5:05 – 6:30 – Play with/watch Lazarus. Zone out on the couch. Stop at least 3 arguments between the boys. Think about all the things I should be doing. Don’t do them because I’m too tired. Get Lazarus his bedtime bottle. Change Lazarus. Read him his bedtime book. Say good night to everyone. Feed him and sing him his bedtime song. Put him in bed. Close his bedroom door and exhale. Creep downstairs.

6:30 – 8:30 – Sit. Check email. Go on Facebook. Half pay attention to Tory and the boys. Feel guilty for not doing more. Do a small amount of cleaning. Worry about not doing enough in school. Do a small amount of school work. Realize I can’t focus on school work. Think about how to help the boys reach their potential. Worry that I’m not able to do enough to help the boys reach their potential. Help get the boys to bed.

8:30 – 10:30 – Spend the only moments of the day I have alone with Tory. Try to do more school work. Worry about not doing enough to help out at home. Help make lunches. Plan the next day. Shower. Brush my teeth. Watch a little tv with Tory. Feel guilty for not getting more done during the day. Crawl into bed.

11 – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Enjoy him not squirming for 10 seconds. Go back to sleep.

2am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Wonder how often he will wake up tonight or if he will let me sleep. Go back to sleep.

4/5:30am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Realize he doesn’t want to go back down. Bring him into our bed. Try to get him to sleep. Fail. Bring him back to his crib, turn on the stars, leave him to fall asleep in his own time. Go back to sleep.

6:30 – Wake up to Lazarus crying/talking. Tory gets up with him. Go back to sleep.

7:15am – Get up for the day.

Sure. It’s a lot. But that’s what weekends are for, right?

Wrong.

When you have kids, weekends no longer mean sleeping in and hanging out with friends and catching up on your rest and school work. Nope. Weekends are the 48 hours I have during the week to spend quality time with my family, go to church, help clean the entire house, help catch up on laundry and dishes that I’ve let go all week, buy all the groceries, figure out meals for the week, do all the school work I failed to do during the week including re-reading all the things I zoned out on and try to spend some one on one time with Tory, all while taking care of the kids (especially Lazarus who desperately wants my attention ALL THE TIME).

I used to think I knew what tired was.

I had no idea.

Tired is feeling pulled in 5 different directions every moment of every day.

Tired is not having slept through the night in over a year.

Tired is realizing at 5pm on a Saturday that you haven’t stopped even for a minute since you got up that morning, and that you won’t stop until long after the kids are in bed.

Tired is accepting you can’t do it all, but feeling like you are supposed to be able to anyway.

Tired is something most parents feel, most of the time. And they feel it in a way that’s entirely different from single tired.

However, let me be clear on something: I’m running on the spectrum of exhaustion all the time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the whole world.

I have an incredible partner who reminds me I’m not failing anyone and makes sure I take a break when I really need it – just an hour or two to myself to recharge.

I have the most amazing, intelligent, loving, compassionate children who pick at each other 70% of the time but Love each other 100% of the time, and Love me too, even in my many shortcomings.

I have wonderful friends who understand what my life is and don’t mind if I only get the chance to talk to them once a month, but who are there for me every hour of every day should I need them.

I had no idea what tired really was before I had other people who relied on me. I also had no idea that Love can give us the ability to do pretty much anything, no matter how exhausted we are.

Now where’s my coffee?

The Many Moods of Motherhood

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*Disclaimer: This post is about motherhood. I have two other children – my stepsons – who I Love deeply and uniquely and with my whole heart. But because they have a mom who is present and active in their lives, being “main mom” is not my role in their lives. Even though I have been stepmom for 2 1/2 years already, being main mom has still been a completely new experience.

 

 

Six and a half months ago, a mother was born.

Standing on this side of the motherhood experience, I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing anyone can say to you that will prepare you for being a mom. Sure, you may know how to care for babies and change diapers, have your dos and dont’s of discipline laid out and understand your position on vaccines and playdates and private schooling, but there is nothing that can make you understand the emotional impact being Mom will have on you.

Everyone talks about the overwhelming, life altering love new parents feel. It is true – you will Love this child of yours in a way you can’t comprehend. It’s an incredible reorientation of self that occurs. Everything in your life passes through a new filter now – that of parenthood. Priorities change.

But not everything in motherhood is butterflies and roses and lollipops.

I spent a lot of the first few months of being a mom feeling like I was a bad person. Why? Because while I felt all the love that everyone always talks about, I also felt a lot of other not so nice things.

For one, I felt a lot of resentment. Resentment that I had lost my ability to just go out for a night with my friends without having to get a babysitter and pump and leave instructions and then worry the whole time anyway about whether or not the baby was doing ok and if the babysitter could handle it. Resentment that my husband could turn over and go back to sleep whenever the baby cried while I had to get up to feed him. Resentment that I couldn’t browse through clothes at a store without a baby hanging off of me or the looming deadline of having to be done in 2 hours so that the baby could eat again. Resentment that even when given the chance, I was unable to nap, as the phantom cries of my sleeping child would wake me. And I didn’t just lose my physical independence (at least for the time being). Even more than that, I lost my mental independence. This baby invaded my every thought. I couldn’t even eat or drink without having to consider how it would affect him. Every single choice I made had to be made with consideration for the implications it would have on another human being. It was totally and completely overwhelming.

I was also frustrated. Before having a baby, I was the most efficient person. I got things done, and I got them done quickly and completely. Now, I found myself struggling to accomplish even a quarter of any given task. Everything took ten times as long and only (maybe) got finished after 4 or 5 attempts.

Then there was the crying. I’m lucky – my baby is a pretty damn good baby, and he’s never been a super crier. But when those times did come when my baby wouldn’t stop crying NO MATTER WHAT I DID, and I was exhausted from only getting 5 or so interrupted hours of sleep every night for the past 4 months, that crying felt like the most effective psychological torture ever invented. On more than one occasion I had to put him down and walk away so I could cry myself in the other room, afraid I’d shake him or possibly throw him out the window from overwhelming frustration and exhaustion and helplessness. Then I’d feel horrible for even thinking those thoughts (even though I knew I would never actually do anything of the sort) and inadequate for not being able to take care of my baby and I’d question why I could not do what all other mothers could. I felt so alone.

And the struggles with motherhood continue. In one week, I am starting law school. My son is now almost 7 months old, and while I am so fortunate to have my husband being the one to take care of him while I’m at school, I still battle off thoughts of being a bad mother for leaving him while he’s so young. I worry that he will feel insecure and abandoned. I feel guilty that I don’t have the time or energy to pump while I’m at school during the day requiring him to be on formula during those hours. I know I’d be unfulfilled staying at home full time but I question whether I can be a good mom AND be a good lawyer at the same time. I wonder if someday he will resent my career.

I have spent so much time over the past 6 months feeling guilty for not being a good mom. But the truth is, I AM a good mom. I’m a great mom. I’m a real mom. I’m a whole human being and all the different parts of me came together to join in my motherhood. It’s not all love and happiness. It’s not all joy. Sometimes it’s frustration and anger and resentment and fear, and that’s ok. That’s part of it. That’s part of the growing and changing and learning and mourning that all comes with being a mom. In motherhood we gain so much but we also lose our old selves and our old lives, and we do ourselves a disservice if we refuse to acknowledge the not so nice things that are part of our motherhood experiences.

Motherhood has many moods. Many different shades of joy and sorrow, of love and longing, of learning and of letting go. It is the most difficult role I have ever taken on. It is also the most edifying. While I am thankful every day that I have the honour of being someone’s mom, I’m here to tell you other moms – past, present and future – that motherhood permeates us in our entirety, and there is nothing wrong with parts of us struggling to accept the new reality of this enormous responsibility. We are not one dimensional beings, so to expect that our experience of motherhood would be one dimensional is unfair and unrealistic.

You are a good mom when you are nursing your child blissfully in the wee hours of the morning. You are a good mom when you joyfully play on the floor, laughing at your child’s simple pleasures. But you are also a good mom when you hate the thought of having to feed your child YET AGAIN and fantasize about the day when your boobs will once again belong to you. You are a good mom when you just can’t bring yourself to play the same song for the 50th time in a row and you long for uninterrupted adult conversation. You are a good mom when you question if you did the right thing by having kids right now. You are a good mom when you wonder if you are a good mom.

Motherhood is not just about loving your kids unconditionally and feeling blissed out and blessed by their presence in your life. It is also about struggling to maintain your own identity under this new umbrella of motherhood, and figuring out how to balance your needs and theirs. One of the best gifts we can give your children is to be whole people, and achieving that wholeness requires that we embrace both the joyful and the more difficult parts of life. Our children love us for being their moms, even when we aren’t sure exactly how to be one.

Hello, motherhood. I look forward to all you have to offer.