He Feeds Her

He loves his babies. Always has. His hands perfect for holding small heads. His long flat chest a place to rest and hear the thump-tha- thump just like it was in mommy’s tummy.

I hated breastfeeding. Never enough milk. What did come was so often vomited back onto those bags I lugged heavily on my frame. She’d scream with acid pain and empty belly.

He’d soothe her patiently.  Rocking, and shushing and swaying. Cooing, and patting, and humming.  Loving her with every inch of himself.  She’d sleep fitfully. Reluctantly convinced into rest.

Midnight feedings were hazy nightmares. He wanted to help.  But the best milk was in me.

Breast is best. Breast is best.  Breasts are beasts. Breasts are beasts.

After each feeding, I’d wake him, saying, “Take her.  I can’t do this anymore.”  He’d rouse himself. Sweep her up in the darkness. Pour sweet nectar into her ears.

Delirium twisted mother’s milk into mother’s bane.  But the shame, the shame seemed worse than this.  The shame and the failure:

A stay-at-home mom who does not breast feed.

Unspoken damnation whispered into my mind’s eye. “You’re a bad mother. Selfish. Weak. She will suffer forever. It’s all your fault.”

He said, “You don’t have to. It’s OK.  Don’t listen. I love you. You’re good. You’re good.”

No. You’re good. I am bad.

He said, “I want to help. Let me help. Let me feed her. You can rest. You can sleep. No more pumping. No more soreness. Let me help.”

Every day for months, we three danced this way.  And I felt myself pushing away from the child so waited for. Now, so hungry, always so hungry.

And me with nothing left to give.

So I let him help.  Knowing I was bad. She would suffer. He would leave me.  All good things, as they say, would come to an end.

But instead.

When the clock struck 10 I’d be fast asleep. A night-owl, he stayed up for the midnight feed.  And I, the early bird, took the 4 am, happy to be with my girl.

So rested, body mine, no pumping, no resentment.  Just the everyday trials of new parenthood – shared equally by two.

My burden had lifted.  And his was increased? Would his baby love stay so strong in the face of the feeds?

When I asked,  he said, “You don’t understand. You have given me a gift.”

“I hold her in my arms, bottle in hand, and she looks at me.  I see in her eyes something different, something new, something real.”

“‘You feed me.’ she says, without words.”

“I am her father, and I feed her. Don’t you see? We men are not supposed to feed. But I want to feed her. I need to feed her.”

He feeds her. To this day, he feeds her.  And she knows it.

And we are all free.

 

 

 

Gender play

Eli with transformer

 

 

“A surprise for me!!!”

Little Brother third birthday

and the first present arrives.

“Cool!  It’s a robot!!”

“Open for me!”

Big sister five lingers nearby.

 

Her two-months-passed birthday

still fresh in her mind.

“Ooh.  A TRANSFORMER!!

Can I play with it too?”

She sits close to her brother, with watchful eyes

 

Eventually,  Almost Three loses interest in his prize.

He says, “I want to cook with Mommy!!”

Runs to the kitchen. Clambers up the stool.

“Bowl please! Want some water please!

Want spoon please! Man spoon!”

 

Alone on the floor now,

Sister works the cast off prize.

She has figured it out.

Put on the wings.

Make him fly.

 

Little Brother wants Man spoon.

I pull out a teaspoon.

“Nooooo!” silly mommy!”

I pull out a tablespoon.

“Noooo.”  He rolls eyes.

 

I pull out a long-handled ladle.

“Yes!! That’s a man spoon.

Raaaaawrrrrr!”

He growls as he stirs .

She sings as robot flies.

 

The next morning

Big Sister’s sighs.

“Mommy, are there any

princess transformers?”

“I don’t think so.” I say.

She is unsatisfied.

 

“I know!

A Cinderella robot…

that transforms…

into a carriage!”

Her idea makes her smile.

 

And that same morning,

Little Brother carries

robot into school.

On his right hip,

gently cradling him,

Just like mommy

used to do.

 

 

 

 

Portrait Part 2: Beauty Marks

We are the face that glows with memory and prescience.

Our eyes hold galaxies and the moistened soil after a summer rain.

Our hair finds the tempo of your heart and matches it.

Our feet reach down into the earth’s core and burn.

Our legs rise like columns bracing the temple of our torso.

Our torso swells and recedes like the tides.

And when you meet us, our soul reaches out

to yours and says, “We welcome you, be at peace.”

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NaPoWriMo 2013; Day 17

Portrait Part 1: Flaws

Duck feet, square hands.

Jelly roll around the waist.

Board butt on thunder thighs

looks as though she dressed in haste

 

Pocked face, apple-shaped

lips too thin to pencil in

bulbous nose, lopsided ears

one hair growing on my chin

 

Once long hair now falling out

dyed to hide the graying crew

knees that sound like breaking twigs

Feeling older than I knew.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

NaPoWriMo 2014:  Day 16

What happens?

What happens to girls is this:

First we bleed, we bud, we bloom.

We become some thing that attracts attention.

We become boobs, butt, legs, body.

We become an opening to be filled.

We become woman.

This is what happens.

 

What happens to boys is this:

First you look, you lust, you lunge.

You learn to take what you want without asking.

You learn to stalk, to hunt, to trap.

You learn to kill for pleasure.

You learn to be man.

This is what happens.

 

Then the sky fills with poison gas.

Then the mountains consume themselves in flame.

Then there is nothing but  vultures circling.

And the dust settling

on what we were meant to be.

More than woman. More than man.

Curse these forsaken forms.

This is what happens

to us all.

———————————————————————————————-

NaPoWriMo 2013: Day 1

 

Jai Meerabai

Something about her captivated me.  Her waist was so narrow I thought it could fit between my thumb and pointer. Her eyes were wide and earnest and far away.  She was enraptured, tortured, swimming in the deep waters of pain and love. Her soul married Krishna, a Hindu God, butter thief, lover of women, and consultant to Kings, when she was five years old.  Her parents later married her body to a powerful lord, but she remained faithful to Krishna in her heart.

Her love for Krishna over family led to her being ostracized and attacked by her powerful in-laws.  Krishna protected her from these assaults.  He turned poison to ambrosia. He  transformed a bed of nails into a bed of roses.  Venomous snakes became garlands of flowers. She fled her in laws home and traveled the country, composing hundreds of song in praise of Lord Krishna. She became famous for her beautiful songs and the purity and strength of her devotion.  She grew old but did not die. She spent her last moments on earth performing rapturously in front of a crowd of hundreds, collapsed at the feet of a statue of Lord Krishna and vanished.

Meerabai. Poet- saint. Chanteuse.  Her Raags are still performed today.

I met her in a comic book when I was 8 or so. She was a beautiful illustration of a woman in love, a persecuted soul,  a spiritual leader.  I fantasized myself into those pages. My long eyelashes drooped sorrowfully and a playful half smile formed on my lips. I held my veena to my body, caressing the strings with a passion that I could detect but did not yet understand. I would name my daughter Meera in hopes that she would follow in the footsteps of this tragically mortal woman immortalized in pastels and word blocks. She was more beautiful than Cinderella, braver than Snow White, and more tortured than Belle. She was my fairy-tale princess. She was better than a fairy-tale princess. She was a real person.

In my 20s I worked as a rape crisis counselor and prevention educator.  As a counselor, I was surrounded by women in love, persecuted, and tortured. Their lives were not romantic, beautiful tradegies.  Life was painful, complicated, and real. As an educator, I spoke to hundreds of teenage boys and girls.  I talked about the power of stories and the messages in fairy tales. I wanted them to know that love did not have to equal pain and abuse. During those years, I thought often of Meerabai. Her story glorified pain and suffering. I would not name a daughter after her. I did not even know if I wanted children anymore. Comic books and fairy tales were fantasies concocted for and by men.  For a time, I let Meerabai go.

She has been calling to me lately again.  There is an itch inside of me. A  place in my mind that flashes her picture.  A small voice in my head trying to remind me of this one thing – Meerabai was no fairytale. She was a real woman.

She was born in 1498AD.  She wrote hundreds of songs that are still sung today.  She refused to join her husband on the funeral pyre. She left her family to wander the country. She sang to crowds of hundreds. She challenged the priests of the day with her devotion and piety. She did not heed the words of men because Krishna was the only true man.  These are the things we know about her. How much more is there that we do not know?

I want to know the herstory of Meerabai.  I do not want to be her, or name my daughter for her. I do not want to fetishize her or idolize her. I do not want to know the comic book version of her.  I want to know her pain, and her resilience, and her conviction and her insanity woman to woman. That is the story I can learn from. That is a story I can tell my children. Meerabai lived.

I did not know I was beautiful

I did not know I was beautiful when the photographer taking pre-school pictures said, “Aww.  Your hair is so long.  What a beautiful little Hawaiian girl. Say “Aloha”.

I did not know I was beautiful when I went to the beach and all of the other kids had to wear sunscreen to keep from getting too dark.

I did not know I was beautiful when it was fitness week in my fifth grade class and we all had to weigh ourselves and I weighed over 100lbs.

I did not know I was beautiful when my mother caught me looking nervously at my pre-teen reflection in the mirror and asked me, with fear in her voice,  if I wished that I was White.

I did not know I was beautiful when I was the only one of my friends who did not have a date to homecoming.

I did not know I was beautiful when my highschool boyfriend told me that he could not get too serious because I was not Christian.

I did not know I was beautiful when my Asian college boyfriend dumped me and started dating my White roommate.

I did not know I was beautiful, but I was.

So I started wearing my nose ring and the sparkle offset my eyes.

So I got a tatoo over my heart reminding me of what lies inside.

So I learned to care for my body with kindness, and attention, and movement.

So I surrounded myself with people whose beauty radiated from within.

Then my boyfriend said, “I choose you, and choose you, and choose you.

Then I heard friends say “Your daughter is so beautiful. She looks just like you.”

I did not know I was beautiful, so I made myself feel beautiful, and then people told me I was beautiful, and now I know that I am beautiful… sometimes.

Soldier girl

 

When eyes open

when mind sees

that you and your kind

are under attack

what will you do?

Let yourself

be colonized?

Rise up

with sister soldiers

and brother allies.

Mother generals plot and plan.

But you are in the trenches.

This is your war now.

 

 

I am mad about gender

“So, what if she’s living in my house, and using my bathroom, and she’s naked in my shower, then can I rape her?”   – 13-year-old boy in a junior high violence prevention class

I am mad about gender. Biological sex is fine. Penises and vaginas exist.  People with vaginas sometimes carry babies. People with penises sometimes shoot semen into people with vaginas and make babies.   That stuff is there.  It’s true. But the rest of it, about what it all means, about who we are, and how we should behave, that’s just people collectively making shit up.

“I don’t care if someone hurts my mom. I just came out of her hole.”  – 13-year-old boy

I am sick of this gender bullshit. Gender is the original divide. The original act of othering.  We believe that we cannot understand each other and it is true because we made it that way.  Within every culture in this world,  there are two cultures embedded – man culture and woman culture, boy culture and girl culture.

“Baby, be sure to play nice with her. She’s just a girl.”  –  a mom on the playground

I have carried and birthed “girl” and I have carried and birthed “boy”.  From the moments of their births,  each one is wrapped in a different packaging.  Each one is told what s/he can and cannot do.  I do it to them as well.  I do it to them and I hate myself for it.  I hate myself because I know this is wrong.

“The real issue is the security breach.  Was the president in danger. As for the other stuff, boys will be boys.”  – military official on NPR

I have a vision.  I have a vision of genderless world. In my new world, gender expression is just personal expression.  People with penises and people with vaginas can try on all different roles, styles, emotions, and relationships.  People can be mean, and hateful, and violent towards other people just because they hate those particular people.   I am not naive.  I understand that there will not be peace on earth.  I know that there will still be murder, and abuse, and yes, even rape.  But I also know that it will not be systematic, it will not be pervasive, and it will not be targeted at someone simply because of the genitals they were born with.

“I asked him why he beat me all those years. How could he treat me like that, like a dog?  He said, it was because he didn’t see me as separate from himself.” – survivor of  20 years of domestic violence

What would it be like?  Can we imagine it?  What would the world be like today if we had thousands of years of women and men inventing things, writing books, singing songs, leading nations, making discoveries, philosophizing, or nurturing children at about the same rate?   What would it be like if today all the governments and all the corporations were run about equally by men and women? What if there were equal numbers of male and female teachers, engineers, nurses, soldiers, writers, carpenters, dancers, computer programmers, and entrepreneurs? What kind of cool shit would we have that we’ve never even thought of?

Wow.  I can’t believe I got a 3 on the AP Calculus exam. It must have been a little math angel on my shoulder. I mean, I suck at math.  – me after getting mostly “A”s in math my entire life.

I am mad about gender because I don’t even know what that would be like.  I want to be able to look back on American history and know that half the presidents were men and half were women.  I want to have learned that, of the presidents who happened to have vaginas, some were good, some were bad, some were left, some were right, some were war mongers, some were capitalists, and some were peaceniks.

I am a Hilary supporter.  Why? Because it’s time for America to have a woman president, just so that we can have more women presidents. So that 200 years from now it might be possible to say, “Hilary was the first of  a dozen women presidents. She wasn’t the best and she wasn’t the worst.”  – what I told people when they asked me why I was a Hilary supporter

I am pained about gender because it is so very limiting.  I believe that human potential is limitless.  We are each born with all of ourselves to give. But the moment we are born, we are told that we can only access half of what it means to be human.  Only half.  We are half people, all of us.

My husband and I are walking down the street pushing the kids in our double stroller. We begin to cross a street.  A stopped car pulls forward and hits the stroller. The driver was not paying attention. My husband starts shouting and tells the driver to move back. He is angry and that spurs him into action.  I check to make sure the kids are ok.  I feel nothing.  I cannot get angry like that. I wish I could.  – recent memory

I am only half a person.  If I could be angry, if I could accept that I am good at math, if I could rough-house, and play video games, and know that I am supposed to be brave, if I could walk at night without fear of rape, if I could dress  in whatever felt best to me, what more could I do with my life?  I am working to access those things.  I worry it is too late for me.  I feel pain in my heart. I want to be whole.  I don’t care anymore who “she” is. I want to know who “me” is.

 

Author’s Note:  All of the quotes and italics are paraphrased rememberings of what was said or thought at the time.

 

Why American Incarnations?

Because I am American. Because in America I can never be just American. Because I am not White, but I have been told by others, “I just think of you as White.”  Because when I am in India, I am American, but when I am in America, they ask me “Where are you from?” and they are not satisfied when I reply, “Delaware.”

Because I have never wanted to live anywhere else, but I have always thought it might be easier to live somewhere else. Because I am married to a  White, atheist, half Jew/ half Christian man. Because my children are part of us both and something else entirely.  Because I don’t know what neighbordhood any of us belong in.

Because I love America and need so very badly for America to change. Because I work hard to love Americans by helping Americans to change their communities, their organizations, their minds, and their hearts.

Because I know I am not alone in my aloneness. Because I am not unique, though there is only one of me.  Because blogging used to be cool, so I have to start doing it now that it’s not.

Welcome to American Incarnations.