Uprising in Pink: Musings on The Women’s March on Washington

I woke up this Saturday morning in despair. Just one week earlier, I had stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of Americans on Washington, for the Women’s March, feeling lifted by the energy and heartened by the sheer numbers of voices raised in unison across the globe. But after a mere 7 days, it almost felt like it had never even happened—and it certainly felt to me, that morning, that it hadn’t really mattered. The rapid fire news cycle, the outrageous executive orders, the news of the DAPL being back on the table, the cabinet appointments still looming large—dizzied my mind, clouded my thoughts, and weighed heavy on my heart. I found it difficult to give the usual attention I devote to my work. And, although my body was present with my family, my mind had been far far away. Saturday morning, I lost it for a little minute.

At my husband’s urging, I put the phone away for the day, and committed to being present with my family for the weekend. We turned on some tunes, baked a little, and decided that we would take some real-time action as a family & attend a local post-card writing party. The four of us piled into the car and headed to the local gathering place, with varied levels of enthusiasm. But, upon entrance all of our sprits were lifted.

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When we walked in, the place was buzzing with nearly a hundred of our neighbors, already busily addressing post cards to our elected officials. My kids saw friends, made posters, sampled the snacks, and got to witness political action at the grassroots. We tackled a few stacks of post cards, while chatting with folks from the community that were seated around our table.

I was starting to see that the marching had mattered after all. For, this event had been directly inspired by the Women’s March itself—the first of “10 Actions for the First Hundred Days”.

When we got home from the post card party, and checked FB we realized that the airports were filling up with protesters, standing united against the unconstitutional Executive Order, banning of refugees from entering this country. And, my hope was once again restored, by the demonstration of people putting their bodies where there values are. Would they have come out in such great numbers without our march last week? We can’t know for sure. But, what had seemed irrelevant just that morning, seemed to have renewed meaning.

So, before it slips away from my grasp, and the relevance gets lost in the onslaught of constant political chaos, let me tell you a little bit about what it felt like to put my body where my values are, and for the first time exercise my first amendment right of peaceful protest.

It still feels like it could have been a dream—the hoards of people quietly making their way through the DC metro system with eyes wide, surveying the faces of those who would be marching beside them.

Our little group, waiting for the metro.

—The ethereal sound floating over the speakers, sung notes sustained longer than one could imagine, so long that any melody was just beyond the mind’s grasp—the the sea of pink hats and raised signs filling the streets of Washington D.C. to bursting.

The signs so varied in their message and design, our eyes hungry to decode them all.

photo credit S. Tayeh

—The raised voice of Gloria Steinem whose words washed over us like a blessing from the feminist pioneers who have come before—Michael Moore’s practical call to action which having gone on a moment too long was cut off by the brazen and bold poem read by a fierce warrior woman named Ashley Judd—the 5 of us snaking through the crowds like a daisy chain, making sure to maintain eye contact with anyone who broke the chain & fell behind, on our recon mission for the port-a-pot queue.

—The misty clouds enveloping the monument on one end of the mall and shrouding the capital on the other.

—It was surreal on that day, like the unfolding of a dream where you are the watcher and the player all at the same time.

We made our way back into the crowd, after spending some time on the mall, and found ourselves in the courtyard of behind the Smithsonian. There, we waited for the opportunity to rejoin the crowd on Independence Avenue. We were ready to march, and yet the crowd was locked in place. We could still hear the voices coming from the stage speakers. One voice told us that we would be marching soon, shortly followed by the voice of another woman who told us that due to the enormity of the crowds, there was nowhere to march. We became the Women’s Stand on Washington for the next little while. And, then we got antsy. One member of our group spotted some people sitting atop a wall on the other side of a fence, nearby where we were standing. We decided to make our move. She and I, emboldened by action, decided to climb the chain link fence & scale the wall on the other side. Punk Rock, right? We jumped on the fence, and quickly realized that it was only held together by a plastic rip stop band, and that the fence itself was not up to supporting our weight. At the same time, another gal from our group called our names, and brought us back to our senses. There was a 2 foot gap in the fence, that was plenty big enough for us to walk easily through. So, jumped down, laughed at ourselves, and walked on through. Then came the obstacle of climbing onto the wall itself, which was beyond a series of glass barriers on the roof of the small building which we were attempting to scale. We did not want to damage any property, or break any laws, but we did want a chance to see the size of the crowds from a vantage higher vantage point. Two of my friends climbed up before I did. I was having second thoughts when the metal bars over the glass windows were clearly not meant to bear weight. Then my friend instructed me to crawl on all fours. With that, I was up in a flash. The crowd was wider than the eye could see.

There were people in every direction, as there had been in every place we had been up till this point—more people than I could have ever imagined in one place at one time. It was a sea of pink, joyful and buzzing, even after hours of standing for the rally and in anticipation of the march at hand. The energy was bigger than anything I have ever experienced. The security guard at the Smithsonian pleaded with us gently to get down off the wall. But, for that moment, we were not in any hurry. The rest of our group had made it around to the front of where we were perched, and suddenly the crowd started moving. It was time to march. 

And, right as we got going, Madonna’s voice echoed through the streets of Washington. Express Yourself was the song on our lips, and as we marched, we sang—eyes bright, hearts open, in awe of what was going on around us, and that we were really there in that moment, making history.

 We passed two police officers who were standing on top of their vehicle dancing & singing along.

They joined us celebrating. Their support and excitement deepened our resolve. And then the chanting started. 

While I marched and chanted, I tried my best to make a mental list of all of the reasons that I put my body where my values were on that day.
I marched for women: who make life and care for it—to have autonomy over our bodies & healthcare choices—for sex-ed, access to affordable birth control, and for access to safe and legal abortion.

I marched for equal pay for equal work, and to fight for the rights of women of color who make less on the man’s dollar, than I do, as a white woman.

I marched because #BlackLivesMatter and deserve protection from harm at the hands of police—because black mothers are losing their sons. I grieve beside them, and know that is this problem is one that we all need to dig deeper within ourselves to solve together.

I marched for Mother Earth and clear air, clean drinking water, clean oceans, rivers, and streams, and a planet that can remain vital for generations to come.

I marched for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, for those who have families and for those who do not. I marched to protect marriage rights under the law for all Americans, no matter who they love.
I marched for healthcare, for women, for families, for people like my mother with pre-existing conditions, and for my sister who was uninsured before the availability of the ACA.

I marched because we are a nation of immigrants, and I value diversity as one our nation’s great strengths.

I marched for every woman and girl that has & will face sexism, discrimination, sexual violence or aggression, or misogyny.

And, I marched because I wanted to be an example for my children. I want them to see first hand what it means to go out of your way to stand up for what you believe in and to fight for what’s right, even when/especially when it’s hard.
After that phenomenal event, I participated in a quieter act of rebellion that felt to me like just as defiant as marching down the streets of Washington D.C. chanting this call & response: “Show me what democracy looks like!”
“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”.

I got under the covers, in front of the tv with two women–one with whom I have been friends for 20 years, the other of whom I have just met but have long admired–with a take out container of spaghetti on my lap, and a glass of wine in my hand. We flipped between the recent remake of Beaches, Titanic, a very confusing Jody Foster space movie (Contact), and Frozen. We talked, laughed, and processed what we had just been through together. I had not had that kind of girl time in a very long time. It felt sacred & sustaining–just like it did to exercise my first amendment rights through freedom of expression, speech, and peaceful protest.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

With love and gratitude,
Stephanie

Gratitude in the Unlikeliest of Places: A Feminist Awakening

I had an unexpected moment of gratitude for this campaign cycle, as I was walking my dog in the rain last week. It was one of those moments where I had an actual moment to think. My phone was at home, I was covered in rain gear from head to toe, the dog had to poop (but didn’t really want to), and my job was to wait patiently until the task was complete. Ahhhhhh, thinking time. And that’s when this little surprise bubbled up. 

I am thankful for this campaign cycle for giving me an insight into feminism that I never really had until the primary elections. It’s not that I wasn’t a feminist before, I always have been. But, I never identified with “those militant types”. See, I for many years didn’t need to. I have been living with a certain privilege throughout my entire life that I never even noticed, that is until I met my daughter.
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Growing up as a blonde white woman who mostly fits into the culturally acceptable size and appearance standards, I had no idea that how I looked had ANYTHING to do with how I was treated by others, or what opportunity it afforded me with regard to gaining employment or being treated with respect by those around me.

But, as I watched my daughter move through the world, I became privy to privilege in a way that kind of knocked the wind out of me for a spell. This girl of mine captivates friends and strangers alike. Her platinum blonde hair, exuberant smile, and open heart endear her to everyone she meets. And, people give her stuff. It happens ALL THE TIME. For example, last fall on a trip to Chicago we snagged an UBER on the way back to the hotel. She and her brother were cracking the driver up with their observations on the Windy City. (I’m certain he was stoned to the gills—but he got us to the hotel in one piece). Hanging from his rear view was a little rubber skeleton, and my daughter complimented it. As we left the car, he pulled it down & gave it to her. This was really no surprise to any of us, her older brother especially, who refers to her saltily as “the luckiest girl in the world”. She is. And, yes, she is incredibly charming and warm. But, strangers don’t know that—they just see her blonde hair & blue eyes, and she’s in. She passes the test.

Turns out, I must have been passing the same kinds of tests inadvertently for years. I started to look back at my own life to see if I could find places where this privilege had moved me forward. I couldn’t find one place where it didn’t. And then, I started to get mad. I got mad for all of the women who didn’t get that pass: for all the women who fought for equality and were still fighting hard in the office, in the boardroom, in the senate, in my own industry (which has culpability beyond most when it comes to maintaining female stereotypes and subordination), and for we mothers who get it from all sides at all times. Because of my privilege I had been blind to the need for vocal feminism. Sure I was harassed by men on the streets of NYC daily for the 12 years I lived there. Sure boys did mean things to me in high school, involving slut shaming and rumor spreading. Sure I was pressured and coerced into sexual situations that I was not ready for, nor wanted to happen, in my younger years. Sure I was beat out for voice-over jobs by men, because of their more authoritative voices. And, yes I noticed that there were many more roles for men (no matter their looks/age) than there are for we gals. But, up until this election cycle started, I didn’t actually understand that misogyny was such an ever present force in our world, how it touches everything. It was shocking to me, first to realize it, and then to know that I had been mostly ignorant of it for my entire 40 years. HOW did I miss it? Privilege, that’s how.

But, now I understand bias in a new light. Here we have the most qualified candidate for president in our lifetime, and she’s being held to a completely different standard than her opponent on every level. She is criticized for her wardrobe, her hair, the sound of her voice, her femininity or lack there of, her strength, and even her experience. Her emails are under mass scrutiny, along with the countless “scandals” that have been at the forefront of the right wing party’s 30 year campaign against her. She has been vetted, investigated, and cleared over and over. Yet her opponent speaks in sentence fragments, brags about sexual assault, has a long history of objectifying and degrading women, has slighted the African American community, Mexican immigrants, people of the Muslim faith, and a Gold Star family, and refuses to release his tax returns. She’s jumped through all the hoops, from law school through her path to the White House, while keeping her head down, and continuing her commitment to the service of American families, moving policy and making change year by year, amidst of all the noise. I’m not saying she’s perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, but, if she were a man, this race would not be so hotly contested & the choice, while very clear to some, would not be so muddy to others.

Hillary Clinton has taught me how important it is to be a feminist, and to raise both my daughter and my son to be feminists too. Women should be treated equally with men, and be safe to choose the best path for their own lives. Whether it be in the workforce, in the home, in the doctor’s office, as a mother, or as child-free, we should be able to live our lives safe from bias, violence, sexual assault, and pay inequity. I have been awoken and inspired to keep learning about those women who fought for our right to vote, who first went to work & excelled in their fields in spite of the inequities in the workplace, who spoke up about sexual violence and advocated for a sexual revolution.

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I did not have to do any of these things. The path was already forged for me. And, I was so blinded by my own privilege, that I didn’t give our fore-mothers, or even the vocal feminists on my own college campus, the credit that they deserved for the hard won battles they fought. Here, I though we were living in a post-feminist world. But, I was dead wrong. 
So, I have gratitude for this election cycle for revealing a part of me that I didn’t even know that I had or needed. I am a feminist, a proud American woman who has been energized to look with new eyes—hopeful that a woman that has worked for her entire life for the benefit of women and children will shatter the glass ceiling into a million little pieces, so that our daughters and our sons can see that a powerful woman can be a beacon of light and not just a shrill uppity bitch.

With love and gratitude,
Stephanie
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Asbury Park in Pictures

My father and I have taken many many walks together on the Ocean City, MD boardwalk, over the past 39 years of my life. But, last week, while visiting Ocean Grove, we took a walk on a different stretch of coastline, on the Jersey Shore. And although he had visited Asbury some years before, I got to experience the boardwalk of Asbury Park for the very first time.
There’s a haunted feeling you get in Asbury Park, in the early morning hours: the mystery of the eerie old blown out buildings against the backdrop of the ever watchful ocean. The grimacing Victorian faces loom over you from above cast in copper, now green from aging by the sea. And the ornate details of the buildings tell stories of mermaids, sea monsters and ships, harkening back to a time where boats held the key to the wider world. And now, juxtaposed against that looming architecture is vibrant street art which has given new life to those strange structures. There’s this gritty, hopeful, edgy, vibe happening on the boardwalk at Asbury Park. It holds the whispers of the ghosts of its past, while beckoning you to have a closer look at the story contemporary seaside artists are rewriting on the very walls of Asbury.
The photos below, tell the story of how Asbury Park revealed herself to me, in the early light of day, on a seaside walk with my father.
Later on in the series, you will see Asbury revealed to my little family, as we traced the steps I had taken just a few mornings before.I give you the Boardwalk of Asbury Park, through the lens of my iPhone.
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Sadly, the mural of the two pin-up girls with yellow and red hair had been defaced when we took the kids to see the art. I was so heartbroken, that I did not take a photo of the piece all splattered with grey/green paint. But, while we were there, some artists were already working to remove the paint, and to restore the girls to their original beauty, as seen in the photo below.
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Thank you for taking this walk with me.
If you explore Asbury Park, please share your photos.
With love & gratitude,
Stephanie

Under the Pink

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Wild Pink Sky Late in NYC June 2009

I feel their eyes on me, whenever I walk into the breast specialist’s office, or in the waiting room at the mammography suite. There’s just a flicker. As most of the women in these rooms are here for their own reasons, whether recently diagnosed, survivors, or those who are currently in treatment. I never really know their stories. But, I note the varying levels of fear hidden behind their eyes. When they see me, I note their faces, which say: Why is she here? So young. she looks so healthy. Is she sick…maybe a young survivor?

I have similar thoughts as I furtively scan the room, taking in each woman perched on her cushioned chair. If I am being honest, I’m always looking for Mom. She’s there in the hopeful eyes of the younger patients. She’s there in the efficient and warm greeting of the office staff (she was everybody’s favorite patient). I see her clearly in the eyes of the ladies who look to be between 50-60 years old, scrolling through photos of their grandchildren on their smartphones. And, as discreetly as I can, I look to find her in the elderly ladies that sit in their respective chairs. But she is not there. She didn’t get to make it that far.

My breath catches a little, and I steady myself, putting my head back into the world of the book in my lap.

These are not rooms, where people strike up chatty conversations. Most women keep to themselves, or quietly talk with whomever they have brought as their support systems. But, me? I come alone.

My mother was 37 1/2 years old, at the time of her first diagnosis. She was so young–too young. Recently divorced, and single-parenting three kids ages 3 1/2-12. She had to be so damn brave. And, she was. She had a close friend that would come along to her appointments, or she had her mother by her side. But, when she came home from chemo to the three of us, and to that empty bed, I can only imagine how scared she must have been.

Whenever I find myself in these waiting rooms, I can’t help but feel my mother sitting in the empty seat beside me. So, no–I’m not alone, really. I have my angel planted firmly by my side, keeping me calm, and reassuring me, that if a diagnosis were to come, that I am fully equipped to fight head on, like she did.

Of course, my larger hope is that I will only come up close and personal with breast cancer once a year–when I hold my breath, as the compression of the mammography machine squishes my flesh as flat as a pancake, and when my doctor, gives me an “All clear. See you next year.”

But, if there comes a time, when I am called to play the hand that my mother, and other women like her have been dealt, my prayer is that I will be able to meet it head on, without fear, and put cancer on the list as just one more thing that I have overcome.

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This post is dedicated to every woman who has been touched by breast cancer, and who has fought the good fight. May the cure be close at hand.

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With love and gratitude,

Stephanie

 

 

 

 

 

New Found Loves: A Mingling of Photography and Haiku

Over the past few years, I have been increasingly interested in precisely capturing a moment in a single image or in the 3 line constraint of a Haiku poem.  In this post, you’ll find 11 poems and corresponding images. Not all of the poems were directly inspired by the image that you see here. But, a number of the pairings were 2 reflections of a single story. The joy that I have found in the discovery of these two art forms is pure and simple. Both mediums give me the immediate satisfaction of a story well told.

 

 

Barking Dog

He is just too loud
In the night when he sounds off
Waking me again
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Morning Practice

Morning Practice

With mat stretched out flat
Heart reaches up to the sky
Yoga on the porch

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Householder

Householder

The weight feels heavy
This managing of a home
I am all grown up

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Empty

Empty

This bed has been full
With at least one child for years
Now it feels so big
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Shepherdstown

Train lumbering by
River reflecting the sky
West Virginia dawn

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Maplewood Morning in Summer

Maplewood Morning in Summer

Brilliant sky clear blue
Rustling breeze stirring the air
Swim lessons commence
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Beth

Beth

Two lovely travelers
Moved over to the beyond
Separate lives Same name

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Breathing is Easy at the Beach

Breathing is Easy at the Beach

The roll of the sea
Pastel paintings in the sky
Feels like coming home

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Meditation

Reflect release breathe
Gathering inward focus
Making space for grace

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Scary Stuff

Scary Stuff

I learned long ago
That fear, real or imagined
Can feel the same way

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Snickerdoodle

Snickerdoodle

Perfection is reached
Sugar butter flour and salt
Baked to golden brown

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Midweek Surrender

Midweek Surrender

Late again today
But Wednesdays are different
There is no yelling

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If you feel inspired, please share your images or poems with me! I’d love to see & hear your captured moments.

With Gratitude,

Stephanie

How Momma Got Her Joy Back

Nov11-2

 

So here’s the deal. This summer was a rough one for me. Somehow, amid a hormonal roller-coaster of changing my “pill” prescription,  (which resulted in hair loss, weight gain, cystic acne, and depression) skipping our annual vacation to Ocean City, MD, and having a very dry spell in my work world, I crashed. Hard.
It was dark in there, like black. I had a moment where I realized that among a number of things, I had lost my joy. Like, all of it.

Everything felt hard, painful, like drudgery–the house, the kids, the relationship, the lack of steady work, the self-care, the laundry, the cooking, the animals, the dishes…lord help me, the damn dishes. I love my life, it is full and happy, and lucky, and beautiful. But suddenly, the pressure to keep it all moving at the expected pace felt too hard to bear. And, then I lost a friend.

I lost one of those friends that you love to know is out there in the world, doing good things, living well, being present. One of those friends that despite the distance, and the time passed between visits or chats,  you just know has your back, and you have hers. She died suddenly, living her adventurous life, kayaking in Gore Canyon, CO. It stopped me in my already slowing tracks. How could it be that my sweet Beth was no longer a part of this world? How was it that the vibrant young girl that I met on my very first day of college could be gone? It was just wrong–all wrong.

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Beth McVay Aug. 6, 1976- August 16, 2014

So, the black got blacker, and I started isolating, and forgot to be grateful.
Isn’t it always the way?

As soon as the gratitude is replaced by resentment, we’re goners. Well, at least I am.

I was feeling smothered by the idea of having to maintain the status quo. After years of hard work, carving out our place in our fields, and socking away our earnings, to buy our dream house, right outside of New York City, we have been used to the fight and the hustle. I have been ever vigilant to make sure that everything is in its place at home, while being razor focused when I am working. I try my best to be a present and active mother to my kids, in all of the moments that I am not working. I do my best to prepare healthy and delicious foods. I try to keep my hair and face together. I try to workout hard 5 days a week, while eating healthily. I try to be a great friend, a good neighbor, and a great wife. I bake for godsake–like a lot. And instead of stepping back to enjoy the payoff, I found myself somehow grasping and clawing in fear that somehow it will all disappear if I make one misstep along the way. Sounds exhausting, right?

Umm, I think that somehow this summer between the birth control fiasco & losing my friend that I hit a wall. Life as I have been living it, since becoming a mother (ten years ago, the first of November), and probably long before that, had become unmanageable. All of this trying to control every damn thing, all the damn time was crushing my soul. And I found myself yelling, screaming, crying, and stomping my foot–literally. It wasn’t pretty or dignified. And, my kids saw the whole show. Oy.

As I melted into a puddle, I blubbered to my husband, “This isn’t me–you know this isn’t me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He agreed, with look of deep concern and confusion all over his face. “This isn’t you.”

I had “graduated” from therapy a year ago, after feeling like things were moving along nicely & most of my big issues had been turned over, this way & that, for the better of 12 years. So, instead of calling my therapist, I bought this book, and started reading it.

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And in Brene Brown‘s book,  I found definitions of perfectionism that kind of absolutely rocked my world.

Perferfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”

Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.

Perfectionism is addictive because we invariably do experience shame, judgement, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.
–Brene Brown–The Gifts of Imperfection

All of this felt like it was written directly to me. (Except for the line about sports)
Not only that, this book is a practical guide to addressing perfectionism and the addiction to business & control.
It has guideposts such as:
#4 Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
and…
#7Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self Worth

So I kept on reading & highlighting, and then I called my therapist.

I’m in rebuilding mode. “Be gentle with yourself and find the joy.” is my new mantra. My dear friend and astrologer, Katie Day, advised me to consider this question before taking on any task: “Is this adding to my energy reserves or depleting them?” And with the help of this simple question, I have been finding small ways to loosen my grip-hold on my life. The kids have been getting to bed a little later, but it’s been less frantic and with far less yelling. I have stopped pushing my body, when it tells me it’s tired, rather than forcing another workout in (and ending up injured AGAIN). I have been meditating in the morning and evening (without giving myself a hard time if I forget here & there), using pranayama and mantra to clear some blocked pathways.

During all of this revamping, another friend had nominated me for the 7 Day Gratitude challenge on FB. Although feeling bleak and depleted, I accepted. And, in that week, the simple practice of naming 3 things for which I am truly grateful really turned the ship around. It is profound how much the daily practice of gratitude can keep one’s spirit buoyant.

When Labor Day passed without one day on the beach all summer, I knew I needed to be in the ocean at least once before the chill of fall descended. So, this weekend, we rented a beach-house owned by some lovely friends, and popped down to Ocean Grove, NJ for a last hurrah.

The town is like a dream, with beautifully painted Victorian homes lined up side by side, like a gingerbread trail that leads to the ocean.

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The water was clear as crystal, perfectly crisp and refreshing. My kids explored the shoreline while I sat at the water’s edge in a folding chair, watching them backlit by the rising sun.
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And, I felt my chest expand and release in a way that it can only do, when I am close to the ocean. We jumped waves. They built an enormous castle (with the expert help of their amazingly talented daddy).
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And, while they were building, I saw a little girl around 9 years old, turn a beautiful front handspring on her way to the surf. My husband caught my eye, knowing that I had seen her, and further knowing that tumbling was my very first love.  And then it hit me. I stood up and like I had done a hundred times in my girlhood, I did a cartwheel, right there on the beach. And then I did handstands too–a bunch of them.

For the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t care if someone thought I was a show-off, or too old, or too <insert your judgement here>. I thought, the time is NOW. I am almost 39 years old, and I love doing handstands on the beach. So, I did handstands until I was done. And, the joy that had been seeping in over the past few weeks, suddenly came flooding back. I did one for my friend Beth. I did two for my kids. But, mostly I did those handstands to feel like me–that deepest part of me where the spark of joy always lives, where being upside down feels like laughter.

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Me at 38 1/2 on the beach in Ocean Grove, NJ.

With gratitude and joy,
Stephanie

Esme’s Feet: A Journey to Self Love Through the Example of My Daughter.

This piece debuted as a part of an amazing project called Listen To Your Mother, a national movement of live storytelling aimed at giving motherhood a microphone.

Pre Show Set Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

Pre Show Set
Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

I was honored to be chosen as a cast member in the North Jersey Production.

North Jersey Cast Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

North Jersey Cast
Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

I would like to thank Sandy Rustin & Deborah Goldstein for the opportunity to share in this amazing evening of storytelling.

Esme's Feet Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

Esme’s Feet
Photo by Joy Yagid Photography

For those of you who were not able to see the live performance, you can read the piece below.
My daughter's 2 day old foot My son's almost 5 year old foot July '09

My daughter’s 2 day old foot
My son’s almost 5 year old foot
July ’09

My daughter has beautiful feet. And sometimes when she lobs a leg over me, when she is sleeping in my bed, I catch a glimpse of that perfectly arched ballerina pointe, and it makes me cry a little. That beautiful foot that is attached to her perfect little leg and her glorious round four year old belly, and then I happen to look at her cherubic sleeping face, and it just kills me. All that beauty, that innocent sleeping, flaxen haired beauty.

And I want her to love how she looks, just the way I do. I want her to see her body as it grows and changes through the eyes of her mama, who thinks she is the most lovely little girl that could be. And, I am deeply afraid that somehow I’m going to somehow mess it all up for her.

See, I get confused when I look in the mirror. And, often I resent those nagging parts that my own mother really hated about her body too. Wide end, fat thighs, doughy knees, long in the torso, with squat little stumps for legs. My mother was always chiding herself with regard to her size. She was petite, yes. But, she loathed her legs and feet. Tree stumps with duck paddles.

I have always hated my wide feet, as well. I have not thanked them enough for their sturdy foundation, but cursed them many times for not fitting into cute shoes. And the feet are just the beginning of my history of bottom-centric self-loathing. As a little girl, my knees were so fat that my cheeks were overlooked, when pinching aunties were nearby. They called me tank. I stretched out as I reached school age, but those early triggers held on. Shorts were off my list throughout my entire 20s. I just didn’t show my knees. Period.

You may be shaking your head right now. You may be saying–“No, that’s not right. Your mom had a great little figure, she was teeny and strong. Or, Stephanie, you must be high.” And you may be seeing the situation more clearly than Mom or I have ever been able to do.

I struggle with self love and self acceptance with regard to my body on a daily basis. And, having a daughter that is built in precisely the same manner that I am, my sister is, and our mother also was, has presented, NO–demanded an opportunity to change this thinking.

I see her, my little daughter, and I want her to love herself. Every bit of herself, her kindness, her humor, her ease, her goofiness, and her beautiful little body–all of it.

So, I have to reframe, to reshape, to reform the ways in which I think, speak, and ultimately feel about my body. I need to do it for her, and I need to do it for me.

I must learn to celebrate the wonder of a body which birthed two extra large babies, the old fashioned way. A body who used to be able to bend in almost any way without effort or strain, and continues to move in most ways I ask it to.  A body that can get me where I need to go, on a regular basis. A body that presents to the world, an image of who I am.

And then, I see my shape in my daughter’s little form–how adorable she looks in her pants. How strong she is, and how well built and well knit she is–how she moves with such abandon.

My hope is that my daughter will have love and gratitude for the body she been blessed with, that the two are simpatico. And, one day, I hope to thank her for HER example–her beautiful truth–that by simply inhabiting her lovely little self, it was revealed to her mommy that she too, must have been beautiful all along.

Mom and I 1977. Ocean City, MD

Mom and I 1977.
Ocean City, MD

Poolside

Esme and I 2012.
Maplewood, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter, Spring, and TBT: A Meditation on Impermanence

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This morning, I was feeling reflective, as the dog and I made our way around the 3 mile loop through our lovely little town in North Jersey. The gardens were starting to awaken, and patches of color were catching my eye, yard by yard. The sky was lapis blue and clear as crystal.

Maplewood Cherry Blossoms 4-17-14

Maplewood Cherry Blossoms 4-17-14

The temperature was chilly, having plummeted back to the upper 30s after a weekend of temps close to 80 degrees. Welcome to Spring in the North East.

This winter was long, with temperatures hovering in the teens for much of the duration.
So very long. There were moments when I wasn’t quite sure it would actually end. Winter can be like that, so stuck and so barren, so seemingly endless. And, yet, the temperature started to rise, and the snow eventually melted. And now we have green shoots and colorful blossoms in the garden.

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What a relief.

Except that, right when the weather started to turn pleasant, I got hit with the flu. It’s been years since I have been laid up, with an illness so leveling as this one was. I was in bed for more than a week. On day 7, I started wondering if I would ever feel better. Again, it felt like it might go on forever.

There are a few things that I hate to feel–
1. Weak
2. Needy
3. Lazy
4. Incapable
5. Dependant

That damn flu hit all 5. Hard.
It had been a terribly long winter, followed by a terribly long flu, and I started looking for the lesson. There’s always a lesson, right?

And then, after a prescription for a steroid inhaler brought me back to life, I figured it out.
What I landed on was the idea of impermanence. It’s a toughie, in the same kind of way that it can be a real godsend. Mostly we tend to like things to stay just the way they are, unless the way they are is becoming unbearable—like the winter or the flu.

Change can hurt and change can free. Change can upset and change can relieve.
It just depends on what happens to be changing. And, things are always changing.

We adopted the pooch in early December, this goofy little dog whose mother was a Golden Retriever and daddy was a Basset Hound.

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Commander Cody Rainbow Pilato & His Mommy

As we trotted along today, I thought about how my trip around this route had changed over the past few seasons. It used to be my running path, my place to open the channels of inspiration, while blowing off the steam of my life. But, since I have slowed my pace to a walk, I have decided to invite him as my daily companion. We stop a lot more than I like, sometimes. He sniffs and pees, and runs after a bird here and there. It’s a different walk. But, I enjoy his company.

When we came to the half-way point, at the park, I looked up to see the two Magnolia Trees that flank the entrance sign. Two days before, they were breathtaking, but since the frost, many of their lush white and lavender petals have turned to rust. It made me wistful, like Spring can do.

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There is so much beauty in the rebirth of the world in Spring—like the flowers are opening their souls to the sky to commune with the sun. The pinks, yellows, purples, whites, and all of that green–the colors touch me on a heart level. They make me think of my mother, who I lost 7 years ago.

Every Spring, she’d call me up to tell me the daily flower reports, which ones had come up which ones she was hoping to see next. I miss those calls. But, I see her in those colors, and I hear her voice when I call my children to: “Come & look at what came up in the garden!!! Can you tell what’s new? Aren’t they GORGEOUS??? Look, the other tulips are about to go! The Cherry Tree is going to be even MORE beautiful next week!” I really get into the flowers. But then they die. And I get sad. There’s that impermanence again.

When we got back home, I clipped the dog onto his long leash, and we got to work in the garden.

Garden Dog

 

Every time I start to dig a hole in the dirt, I expect it to be an easier task. It’s simple enough. But, I never expect that so much dirt ends up falling right back into the hole where I just dug. Does EVERYTHING have to be a microcosm of life??? There are rocks down there under the soil, the black dirt gets under your nails, and sometimes you fall down on your butt while doing your best not to trample the flowers that are already growing. But, the end result is so darn pretty—I mean, it’s really beautiful, while it lasts.

After I watered the new flowers, and got the dirt out from under my nails, I did the next logical thing a mom whose kids are both in school at the moment would do. I checked my Facebook. And, darn it if it wasn’t Throwback Thursday. I recently reconnected with a friend that had been integral to my life in early childhood. Her dad was the pastor of my childhood church, and my mom was his secretary. Our dads coached baseball together. And when Eric and I were married, her dad officiated the ceremony. The photos that she posted really touched me. They were just one more reminder on how things just keep on changing.

Then, I went into my own family albums, which I inherited when my mother passed, and let my eyes wander over all of those faces.

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Leon & Virginia Nasteff 1940s

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My Parents Russ & Debbie
1980 (maybe)

The faces of my siblings & I, as we grew and changed. The photos of my parents, who divorced long ago, but are still together in those yellowed sticky pages. My mother and my grandparents, alive and smiling. Captured moments, frozen in time, in a world that keeps on changing.

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Impermanent. Fleeting. Beauty.

On Baking: Turning Chaos into Cookies (My Messy Beautiful)

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In my world, schedule has a flexible meaning–meaning that  I have no semblance of what most people consider to be an actual schedule. It’s predictably unpredictable. And, the only thing I can count on 100%, is that if my kids have a special something happening during the school day, I’ll have a last minute audition or job. We have a saying in my world: “Book a vacation, book a job.” And the same logic applies to being “Mommy of the Day”.

This photo taken, after the original date was pushed, amid tears and pleading to: "Pleeeeaaaase, Mommy--ignore your audtion!!! Please."

This photo taken, after the original date was pushed, amid tears and pleading to: “Pleeeeaaaase, Mommy–ignore your audtion!!! Please.”

Some weeks, I am running around New York City at dizzying speeds, and others I am puttering around New Jersey waiting for my phone to ring. But, if there’s something in the calendar, like a doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled 2 months in advance, rest assured, the calls will start coming in. It’s delicately controlled chaos.

Surprisingly enough, I tend to function considerably better, during the busy times. I like to feel needed, I love to work, and I have found that it helps me to be a nicer mommy, when I miss my kids a little bit, here & there.  When there is a break in the scurry, when my schedule grinds to a halt, my mind has a minute to start worrying if my career has finally run its course, and if I have made the wrong choice by being a working mom, in the first place.  During those down times, it gets loud in my head–crazy loud and down right messy.

Baking is a ritual that has the power to quiet me down. There’s solace in the act of turning a pile of browning bananas into a delicious afternoon snack. You rummage through the kitchen finding seemingly disparate items that are inedible on their own: flour, baking soda, baking powder, raw eggs, butter and sugar (ok–the last two can totally be eaten on their own), mix them together in a certain measured order, and end up with magic…delicious, warm, crusty magic.

Elements of Banana Bread

Inevitably at least one child will ask to help & voila–it’s meaningful family time. There’s attention required, there’s a method–a method to the madness. And that’s what I’m always looking for, something to make meaning. Meaning puts me right.

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Pinching the crust.

Apples from the Farm

Apples from the Farm

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Crumb-Top Apple Pie

Baking can also save a play date that’s heading South. Give the kids a job, measuring, mixing, or cracking an egg–and you may have a mess on your hands, but you have saved the sinking ship. And now, there’s a snack on the way. I have yet to meet a kid that will not eat what he or she just made with their own hands. In my experience, after the cooperation required to mix up the batter, after the spoons and beaters have been licked, the camaraderie returns long enough for a little playtime before the goodies come out of the oven.

Baking Playdate  (my daughter is pictured RT)

Baking Playdate 🙂

Food is a big deal in my family. It’s not only a ritual, but a right of passage. The annual Christmas cookie baking, is the stuff of legend. The cookies trace back, at least as far as my German Great Grandmother Emma, on my father’s father’s side. She passed it down to my Grandmom Ginny, who taught it to my dad–and so forth. This recipe takes a full day, from mixing to chilling, to rolling & decorating. It always starts out a joyous adventure, and by the time the last batch comes out of the oven, someone has always stomped off in a huff.  But they are delicious & well worth the trouble. Wafer thin, with a hint of nutmeg, and sometimes a spray of cinnamon sugar, they have a great crunch & a flavor that unfolds as you chew. The dough is also fantastic. In the early years, I was Dad’s helper.  But as the time has gone by and I moved away, my sister & cousin have taken over the mantel of the cookies, at Dad’s house.  Now, I bake my own and we always save a few to compare & contrast.

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And then, there’s my Grandmother’s poundcake. Grandmom baked dozens of different holiday cookies, a number of pies, and was always good for a train-cake for a kid’s birthday party.  But, if her memory could be distilled into one dessert, it would certainly be her pound cake.  This cake is legendary, weighing in at about 5 lbs.  It makes it’s own entrance.  Always delivered in the same silver domed cake plate, the pound cake is still a staple at any Nasteff family gathering. Only, I am the one who brings it now.  When you see the silver cake plate, you know exactly what’s inside.  Proust had his Madeline, and I have that pound cake.  It’s an enormous bundt, golden brown, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. And, the yellowy inside is dense, with a deep flavor of butternut, vanilla, and amaretto. That cake is love on a plate. The poundcake now has a reputation here in NJ, as I have started bringing it as dessert to progressive dinners and pot-luck affairs. It’s even been auctioned off to benefit our school.

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Making that poundcake is an immediate way for me to reconnect with Grandmom. She died 7 years ago, but I swear I transmit her frequency, every time I make that recipe. It’s her cake, I just open up the channel, and let her do her good work through my hands.

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The conscience act of slowing down to prepare something from scratch, for me, is almost always as good as a therapy session or a great yoga class. To feel the various textures of the ingredients, the slick greasy slide of the butter, the grainy abrasive feel of the sugar, the fluffy powder of the dry concoction. To hear the droney rhythm of the mixer as it melds the components together. To smell the aroma as it seeps out of the oven. And, finally to taste the delicious result. It’s a tangible thing to do. It adds up to something real.

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What you have in the end is food–beautiful heart food, that smells up the house in the best possible way, that lights up the eyes of the kids in only the way a fresh pan from the oven can do, and that quiets the chaos for long enough to enjoy a pure blissful moment of yummy togetherness, with those at your table, and even with those who are now in the beyond.

And then…onto the dishes. Messy Beautiful.

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