the_incredible_shrinking_man_6_by_drcreep-d4j53a4

To the girl with the “shrinking” mother–

I listened to your poem last month, for the first time. I know, I’m a little late to the party. Your performance was in April.

It was sent my way via an article that said it explained the plight of women, who sacrifice for men. I’ll be honest. Activism that suggests someone is behind because someone else is ahead bothers me. Feminism along those lines is what makes me reject the label with a ferocity that would surprise most people– given that I am the “breadwinner” of my home, and in most ways live the feminist ideal. This type of activism suffocates me, and angers me, and limits my brothers and sisters alike– and though I didn’t intend to– I listened to that poem without a beginner’s mind. I sought offense, and I found it– even though your poem was great, and your performance was brilliant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQucWXWXp3k

I wrote my own slam poetry response. The first parodied yours. Yours played on the idea that men of age are often significantly larger than their wives. Mine played off the idea that women live longer.

“Men of my family have been shaving away seconds of life, for women, for decades.”

The second poem I wrote was structured like yours as well, but along the way led into the idea that my mother is the strongest person I know.

This made me reassess my reaction to your poem, and create an alternate possibility that I’d like to share with you.

You see, I’m nearly 30, and it was just a smidge over a decade ago that I would have scoffed at the idea of my mother possessing any strength at all.

I could barely look her in the eye for a whole year of my teens.  She seemed like such a waste– this stunning, genius of a woman– reduced to a mother with a near broken back, working all the time for other people’s desires.  I don’t know if she’s ever slept more than 4 hours in a row.  As soon as she gains something, she gives it away– whether it was space, or knowledge, or money. Every time I saw her, I feared the same would happen to me.

I worried that I had been taught to drop my achievements at a moment’s notice– in the name of handcuffs created to hold women back– just because of my mom’s dedication to those same restrictions. I was worried that I was born into a kind of slavery.

squigg1And then there was the car accident.

You see, I have 5 brothers and sisters– so not everyone fits in one car.  My big brother had the baby seat, so he was following behind us with my baby sister.  The rest of us were with my mom.  It was a dark night and we were driving back from dropping my father at the airport– down a fast-moving, icy highway. There were black ice warnings out, and I was in the front seat because I could almost always spot the slippery stuff.

It started to snow, in torrents hard enough to push at the car, and then from the side mirror, I saw it. My brother’s car spun out of control and rolled off the road and down a hill. I screamed his name, and my mom– who witnessed the same thing– put her hand out on mine. She sang a song, to keep the kids in the back of the car asleep, and drove steadily on until there was a place to safely stop. There were tears running down her face, but her voice was clear. She parked the car on the side, put me in charge, took off her 2 inch heels, and walked into the dark snowstorm barefoot– bravely towards what could have been the mere bodies of her children.

squigg3I’m not sure on the details, but my brother’s car was started again, and pushed up the hill– and both he and my baby sister were fine.

When I saw my mom finally walking back to me, hours later, the sun was coming up– she was soaked through, and covered in dirt and blood.  She was holding her children– and a stranger– and she was smiling.

It occurred to me then that a passerbyer might see her as a woman down on her luck, in a position of weakness– but it was the most invulnerable thing I had ever seen. The sort of strength many people never get the chance to witness in a lifetime.

It sounds like you might have blessed by the benefit of an equally dedicated mother.

A dedication to sacrificing is such a brittle concept, and can look a lot like weakness– like late night trips to the fridge for yogurt and wine from a measuring cup– but it is more powerful than words or swords.
squigg5

I of course do not know your specific situation, but the next time you see her tucked away in a small space, consider the possibility that it is because she doesn’t need much space to live the life of her dreams, and that she has faith in your ability to do something brilliant with the extra room.

And next time you see worn hands, or a tired back, consider the idea that it is because she has made a priority out of carrying those who cannot move forward themselves.

When the people around her seem to grow at the cost of her loss, look again.  Listen. Their expansion could be her battle cry.  She is victorious through nurture and sacrifice.

It is a power connected to the heart of the universe.  A strength that fueled a nun to care for lepers, and prompted a man to share a dream of equality.  It echoes through every positive change humans have ever seen, and grows every day under the protection of guardians like our moms.

Does that really sound like shrinking to you?  Because to me it sounds like something big enough to expand its way right past the hemmed edges of the galaxy.

squigg4 I realize now that I wasn’t worried that I would become my mother. I was worried that I would never become the sort of person worth the sacrifices she made.

Snaps to you for showing off your power.  I hope you know that your mom is right to give to you: you are worthy of all the good this world has to offer.  If you can accept that truth, I think you’ll find you’ll stop apologizing for empowerment.  Just do good with it.

With love from a big sister born of the same big power,
Rara

_______________________________

I probably won’t respond to any comments about feminism, because it’s an issue that goes much deeper than my type of blog– but as always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts as long as you play nice.  This post has seen the light of day due to a Daily Post prompt, asking about the post I was most nervous to publish, and what it was like to set it free.  I’ll get back to you on that last part of the question depending on how scary my comment section ends up being.

Have you ever driven on black ice? It’s one of my top fears, even before this night.

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149 comments

  1. I think there is a difference between a strong woman and a shrinking woman. And I think a woman can be both of these things; women often vacillate between the two. When you speak of late-night-yogurt’s as strength I believe this is both shrinking and strength. Shrinking because they feel the need to do it in the first place, and strength for powering through.
    I also believe that just because a woman has been born into a privileged family does not mean there are no obstacles, no fears, no repression. Don’t mistake privilege for power.

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  2. I just thought I’d comment to say that it’s interesting the perspectives we have on the things we hear, and also the state of mind that we’re in when we hear them. I heard nothing of feminism in the poem (and I understand your frustration with the term, I share it). For me it was commentary on women and their unhealthy relationship with food. As someone who struggles with food addiction, feeling alienated because of my food-relationship, I found it an incredibly important piece of art.

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    1. So true! Had it been presented to me as a poem about food, I would have analyzed it with a different brain! :) You commented before I edited my post to include a sentence about how brilliant I really did think the poem was, especially the execution– but and because of it’s brilliance, some of the lines that would have passed by someone else’s radar needled me. It’s a good poem when 4 people hear it, everyone feels something– and thinks differently about it. :) Thank you for sharing your perspective of it, and giving me another mentality to hear it with. :)

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  3. Rara, you mother sounds amazing. What’s wonderful is your appreciation of her. I loved Lily’s poem. I thought of my mother, who was an alcoholic trying to raise 5 kids. I thought of how good my relationship is with her now that she’s been sober almost 18 years. I thought about how different I want my relationship with my own daughter to be. Basically her poem made me think. So did your post. Your post made me remember some of the good times when my mom was able to give herself freely to us. It made me want to look for more things to appreciate about her. Thank you for posting something that made you nervous!

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    1. She is pretty amazing, :) and I also loved Lily’s poem, even though I didn’t agree with much of it… or maybe BECAUSE I didn’t agree with much of it, enough to inspire me to write about a topic that I normally shy away from. Thank you for reading and for sharing your experiences with your mother– I hope you find some more things to hold onto and appreciate! :)

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  4. Skip the labels and we really all believe the same stuff. Labels just drive us apart. I didn’t appreciate my mother until way too late, when there was almost no time left for her … or us. I have very few regrets, but that’s a big one. It would have been so easy to spend more time. I didn’t take the opportunity. Too busy.

    Simple stuff matters. Grown up women finally meeting as equals.

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  5. The girl has a mother and a father. I suggest she filtered out the fathers message and contains much bitterness as a result.

    If the mother wished to be a mother, she is a feminist. Just not the loaded term that is bandied about these days.

    She has a choice. If that’s truly how she feels she can chage herself with but a thought.

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  6. I too shy away from talks on feminism. My thoughts are my own. I’m going to comment on your posting something you were nervous about posting. Kudos my friend! I have posts like that myself. But it does set us free in a way. It sets us free to do it again. And again, and again. I’m sure like me you have many subjects you are nervous about posting. Keep on writing! Keep on posting! (ps. I loved this post personally)

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  7. Black ice terrifies me. We were driving to celebrate an anniversary with a weekend getaway. Between the white out conditions and then the black ice, we ended up having one semi push us into (and nearly under) another semi. It was a 17 vehicle pile up. It was my side heading toward the underneath side of a semi. God was watching out for us because we stopped without going under, which surely would have killed me. I was evidently in shock because I was determined to walk to my mother’s house when I discovered we were in the same county.

    Ever since that I have become horrible with winter driving. I hate it.

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    1. How scary!! I’m the same. I’m so grateful to live in Southern California where the sun shines most all the time– when we visited Utah a few years back, I almost had a panic attack in the car from fear of those white out conditions! I’m glad you were okay. :) *hugs*

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  8. Wow powerful post! Good on you to publish it too :)
    I don’t really have much thoughts on feminism…I used to not understand all that anger, now…not so much.

    Your mom seems like a tough person. It took immense courage, strength, trust and faith to do what she did that night…to keep driving to find a safe spot for the rest of you!

    I believe that no matter what the situation, we still hold the power to change it, just by looking at things differently…you know?

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    1. Thank you, Shree! :) Yes, our thoughts can change everything– like in my story, my mom didn’t change, I just started seeing her through new eyes. Sometimes something doesn’t look like strength. Until you look harder. :)

      Thanks for reading!

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  9. This post was effing brilliant. This part took my breath away:

    “Does that really sound like shrinking to you? Because to me it sounds like something big enough to expand its way right past the hemmed edges of the galaxy.”

    Something about the love and hugeness of parental sacrifice and power always reminds me of the infinity of space too.

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    1. It’s such a funny thing because the same parental love looks like weakness in so many lights and angles– but in dramatic situations, it shows it’s true colors. The sacrifice a parent is willing to make for a child– well, I don’t know if anything in this whole world compares. :)

      Thank you for reading, Emily!

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  10. Incredible post, and heartbreaking. You mother is an amazing woman. Also, I hate black ice – I live in Wisconsin, in the country, so I know how to drive in it, but I’ve ended up in my fair share of ditches, farm fields and curbs!

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    1. Thank you, Katie! :) The scariest part about black ice to me is that it not only depends on you knowing how to drive in it– but also everyone else knowing how, too. Like in my brother’s case, the lady behind him slipped in it and pushed his car off the road. It’s too scary for me! I’ll take California traffic over that any day. :)

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  11. I’ve nearly died a couple of times due to black ice while living in Canada’s far north. Scares the shit out of me. When I first moved to Canada from Australia people kept saying to me to watch out for black ice, but no-one told me what black ice is or what it looks like and I was too befuddled to ask.
    I applaud you for this post. Well done. Your mother sacrificed in silence, mine in a wild uncontrolled fury. I liked her poem, perhaps in part because I was the shrinking one – always shrinking from my mother who was so fierce I thought she’d kill me and that I was unworthy to be alive. I’ve come so far in my healing that reading your post and some of the comments brings tears to my eyes that I no longer have the chance to meet my mother as I am now and for the first time see her and let her see me.

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    1. Ugh, it’s so so scary! I moved from Texas to WA State, so it was the same thing for me– when a friend of mine (a fellow 7 year old) explained it to me as an invisible super slippery surface that causes cars to spin off the road and crash if they accidentally drive on it– I was terrified. Once I learned it wasn’t quite that invisible, I was still terrified. :)

      It’s a good thing that your healing has taken you so far from that shrinking girl to the woman you are now. :) You survived! Yay! :) *hugs*

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  12. Black ice sucks, yes. My mom is shrinking too, literally, and because of the burdens of raising me among many reasons. Which is why I’m moving her in with me now. The care-stream now changes direction…

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    1. She made you strong enough to lend your strength to others, including herself– that sounds like a pretty good mom to me. :) I’m glad you’re able to help! Thanks for reading, Rants!

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  13. I remember black ice. On my way to visit my mother many years ago, my car began to slide into on-coming traffic. I waved to the driver to let him / her know I was in trouble and ‘get out of the way’. Please. Thank goodness it was daytime. We avoided a collision but I ended up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road (I had been driving on). Over a barbwire fence. I had no idea my rad had been pierced. Long story short, I got help and no-one had been hurt.
    My mother was a farm girl with a grade three education. We were brought up to believe whatever we wanted to accomplish we would if we put our mind to it. In my home there were no labels or stereotypes and we were 5 female siblings and my mother and father. :-D What my mother accomplished in a new country: language, a job, sewing all our clothes, organizing all our lives, running the household–to me she deserves a gold star and then some. My father led the line to give her one too.

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    1. Yikes! I’m glad everyone was okay. Black ice is a really scary thing..

      Your mother sounds amazing– like a strong, powerful woman, just like mine. Thanks for sharing a bit of her story with me, :D

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  14. I am not a feminist. I am not a Conservative. I am not Agnostic. I simply am. I hate labeling things because I feel like there’s a moment when people become too comfortable being the label, and either become angry or apathetic as a result. I want to be neither of these things.

    My mom is a badass, and like you, I didn’t realize it until I was much older.

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    1. I like picking labels that apply to only me, and applying them to myself– and ignoring all the others. I’m comfortable with being a paperclip-hoarder, for example. I own it. :) But group labels that mean who-knows-what… eek, I can’t handle that sort of committment or stress.

      And, *high five* for moms who could give Bruce Willis a run for his money!

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  15. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. I hope she reads your blog. I struggle a lot with this concept of giving too much of yourself. Many of my childless friends tell me to take back my life, to do things just for me, to stop being so selfless in the name of my children. The thing of it is, I am OK with being “just a mom” and feel like everything else I do is part of my ultimate calling, which is to raise fiercely independent children who change the world and move mountains. I do not see myself as less than because my sun rises and sets on how my children feel, but society definitely has some disparaging words on that idea.

    Your mother sounds like an amazing woman.

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    1. There’s a few tributes to her around this blog, since she’s pretty great. :D I love that you’re living your calling– there’s something brilliantly spectacular about such peace– and, though it shouldn’t matter what others thinks, I really do wish society would reward such focus more often. Thanks for sharing your story!

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