Sunday, February 2, 2014

not you

It is funny and relevant how much being a parent brings to the surface my personal insecurities while simultaneously triggering the need to be reflective about the person I am becoming.

Let me make sure to be clear that I believe we are always becoming.  I do not believe in ultimate enlightenment or reaching your highest potential.  See, I see us all as flawed and failing.  Simultaneously, I see us as working towards perfection and being better and becoming fuller more robust and whole beings.  I see humans as living in a constant state of flux.  We may think we have one aspect of ourselves all figured out and then that bad or hard little thing may come bite us right on the bottom.

Our demons bare razor teeth even when we think them defeated.  Our angels leave our sides and then come pirouetting back to us in soft pink tutus and glossy drips of rain. 

I believe that without the junk and the struggles, we would be shallow creatures floating just above boring.

And this long introduction gets me to the place where I tell my few, dedicated readers that I am an insecure, constantly wrestling with demons, falling and then rising again parent. 

Over the nearly last year, I have been in a battle with my own dueling wills (and my dear little willa).  I have a hard time with the “not you” syndrome that daily delivers resistance and words of denial from my child’s mouth to my fragile, never-to-be-enlightened ears. 

I suck at being consistently denied by my daughter, even though her brain is very new and my brain is older and supposedly more mature.

Here’s the short version of what has been up.  Since March or February of 2013, Willa has been incredibly clingy with her biological mother, kk.  She has gone through severe phases of denying me and demanding her other mother.  Sometimes I can easily blow off her denials and thrive in empathic concern with her, and at other times, I take her denials and refusals so personally that I want to flee to a dirty motel in the desert and drink copious amounts of bourbon while listening to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and reading my trashy lesbian romance novels until I pass out in the sand and the stars take me away to oblivion. 

Ya, ya.  A little dramatic. 

But, I have had these moments when I totally get how someone flees his or her family.  If I did not have my own insecurities, this shit would never boil up into all of this over-the-top fatalistic thinking.  But, being a non-bio parent (with no legal rights or recognition...*see below) and parenting with a bio parent who has very real biological connectivity to the other human in our house, produces some deeply difficult moments. 

Up until last month, kk breast-fed Willa.  I am glad that they had this beautiful time of mother and child bonding.  I mean it.  However, this form of bonding is incredibly exclusive, and I do think it added to the development of willa’s fierce resistance to me being able to be more of a partner in parenting.  In addition, as a queer who lives in a state that does not recognize me as a legal parent (*after flying under the radar and patiently persisting for over two.five years, I was able to legally adopt Willa, but that long journey is a large piece of the emotional damage I am writing about in this post.  I am happy to share privately with folks what went on with us finessing a legal adoption in a private message), I have experienced layers of quiet and internalized trauma that I am only just recognizing as having psychological and physical ramifications.  Homophobia and heterosexism ravage real harm on people. I have known this, and I get this now more than I ever did before because I have felt the harm to my psyche in these last few years in real concrete ways.

I have very huge historical experiences of harsh homophobia coming from some of the people closest to me in my life and yet now in reflecting on the inequity perpetrated by the state (the state that I am usually so ready to say fuck you to), I am realizing the inter-personal devastation that inequity may trigger. 

This parenting thing really raises this shit up to the surface. 

Through all of this, “Not you, mama nonnie, not you,”  kk has asked me to read parenting articles and parenting books and parenting drivel and I have resisted her insistent requests.  I have resisted because I am stubborn and I do not relate to most parenting writing out there.  I am not a bio-dad or an adoptive straight father.  I am not a straight dude or straight step-parent.  I was not an adoptive, non-bio parent until very recently.  [And, I hold fast to the idea that I never should have had to go through an adoption process to be legally recognized as willa’s second parent.] 

I am this floater.  I am an interloper.  I am a third wheel.  I am a parent defining my own path as I go along.  I did not come into this after reaching consensus with my beloved for jointly adopting a kid through an agency/organization (though, that would be an amazing and perfectly workable method for getting to parenting—though in this ass backwards state only one of us could adopt a kid.  Same dilemma different scenario).

I came into this after much study, deliberation, thought, reflection, conversation, and seeking with my beloved.  We decided to have K work to conceive a kid.  I aided throughout.  I joke that my spit mingled with the sperm, and willa has my stubborn streak to prove it.  I have been with willa always, from the get go.  My name should have been on her birth certificate from the day she came tumbling out onto our sheets.

I do not need the state to recognize me, but when the words out of my daughter’s mouth reflect the rhetoric of state policies and laws (not you, not you, not you), the damage is amplified in a turn of the screw, a shove of the blade, a kick to the shin. 

Yes, Willa’s kick to my shin as she tells me to get away from her echoes a little more loudly in my head cause the state and some very prominent, vocal leaders are saying the same thing while kicking my shins with hateful rhetoric.

And, yes, things are changing.  In addition, I am surrounded by fierce love.  I am loved in this journey beyond measure by so many good, strong people.  And the state is not meant to love anyone or anything.  It is a beast among beasts hungry for control.  I get all of that.  However, I have been trying to sort out why, some of the time, I react so badly to Willa’s normal (according to so many parenting sources) toddler rejection behavior.  And, the more I search, the more I directly relate my reactions to the layers of internalized homophobia and insecurities that ride side car to all of my own internalized oppression. 

I know I am not less than.  I know I am totally capable of co-parenting well, but institutional hate and oppression are strong forces and these forces can impale people with a distinct set of hurts that in turn keep us, at times, wallowing in dangerous cycles of sadness, nihilism, and violence.   Of course, I also am resilient and contrary.  I am willing and able to rise above these circumstances.   But, all of this has given me pause and the need to reflect and reframe in order to survive these times.

All of my sadness at the “not you, mamas” coming from my daughter’s mouth is not just some immature reaction to her toddler self.  I think my sadness is directly connected to the line of hate from individuals and the state that lead to excluding whole groups of people from participating in social structures that do—whether I want them to or not—add meaning and recognition to our lives.  And, you all have heard me rant against marriage and talk long and hard about love being the goal, not state methods leading to more social control.  But god dammit when it comes to this kid, when it comes to thinking through the fact that the state could have impeded on my rights to continue to parent should my partner have died or decided she was done with me, then I get all this deep, weird residue that leads to me being so reactionary to my daughter’s resistance. 

Strange and hard stuff. 
And now to overcoming it. 

I can do that.


Ruth said...

You can do this.
And your feelings are your feelings, so of course they are valid. You get to have them.
Just know that lots of kids do this to their parents, whether bio- or non-bio-.
And with both the things we love and don't love so much about our kids, "this too shall pass" (likely to be replaced by something else that works your nerves...)

But I've met Willa. She's smart and engaging. Have you told her, straight up, "it hurts my feelings when you say that?"

You're a great parent.

andrea said...

Good point, Ruth. She needs to know she's hurting your feelings and it's unacceptable in your house. You work really hard at treating her well and she will learn from that and it will all be fine, DAMMIT!!! BUT, you need to protect your heart, yourself, your head. I have read your struggles and grace at accepting for so long Natalie. (It's an honor to be let in). I hope this is a phase, I hope as soon as you really have ranted as much as you can, POOF, it will be over. You are providing unconditional love. Teaching her what that is. Someday she will appreciate that. You hang in there and keep reaching out! Love to you and your family.

inna said...

Natalie, this is beautiful, heart rending stuff. It strikes so many chords on societal and personal fronts. As a bio parent of a two month old I can feel your pain when my infant pushes me away and cries even harder as I try to soothe her for what is going on 6 hours; and I resent her and feel how crazy that is all at the same time. Thank you for being brave in sharing your pain because it is helping me feel like this parenting stuff is both joyous and hard and we're not alone in it.

Anonymous said...

At three, I just left my girl alone with her dad. I promised a root beer or a sucker for when I got back. But I left them alone for hours at a time. And now they are alone 50% of the time, b/c unlike KK, he was not my beloved, unfortunately. And eventually kids learn to be glad for all the people that love them, especially as they get further from breastfeeding. And this is plenty emotional enough for anyone without the government reinforcing the situation. I guarantee there will be stretches when she wants you and not KK - my girl is all over the map, though at six, as I said, she's pretty for all the love she gets. In a few years, maybe you'll be writing about how you wish she would let go of your leg when you try to go in another room to fold laundry or wash dishes. That's when they get aware that the world is big and scary, and the smart ones often get some anxiety around aloneness. The way I get through these phases is when I remember previous unbearable phases (nipple biting, anyone?) and how one day, they were over. And watching her sleep helps. And watching her climb a fence to watch a parade with her little buddies. Or eat something healthy, hungrily. I would not be above being the only provider of something fabulous, like Talenti salt caramel ice cream. It only comes from you, never KK. Then wait. I love you very very much.


Beth Sherman said...

Hey Natalie. Thanks for writing about this. The State does do our families damage but messing with the primordial bonds of parent child relationships. I went to this talk about privilege recently and the guy talked about how privilege allows people to have the freedom to have personal insecurities while people in target group have to devote a lot of mental space to existential questions of "is the because I'm...or it feels like because I am...or maybe I am reacting to what is being said because I am..." Your post reminded me about this because I want to say, "Hey don't worry, my kids wanted only me and now I am dog shit to them and it is all about Karen, their Reny"
and this is true and how kids are and how things will likely go with Willa etc. etc. but at the same time I want to validate that you are speaking the truth about what unjust laws and homophobia really do do to us. The oppression intrudes in the most insidious way and we must speak about it and how it feels and the tremendous effort it takes not to let it damage what is most precious. Thanks for talking about it. Carry on.

the injector said...

dear and kind and generous people-I know all of you;). thank you for your reflections. thank you for your solidarity and encouragement and shared personal experiences through this. I will soon write a post about the good times with my darling daughter. but, i had to get this clawing, bone crunching prehistoric animal off my chest. and your responses are very helpful in easing the puncture wounds and moving them to softer scars. love, love, love and peace.