One of the side effects of aging, as it turns out, is realizing that if you really want something, sometimes you’ll just have to get it yourself. Gretchen Rubin elaborates on that concept in her book The Happiness Project when she discusses expecting praise (gold stars, as she refers to it) for the hard work she’s been doing as a mother and a wife. She talks about coming to terms with the fact that the praise will sometimes have to be self-generated. Well, I see your gold stars, Gretchen, and I raise you stuff.
During my “tenure” as a mom I’ve regretted many a purchase. I consider the three gifts I’m about to share with you my all time winners.
The first GREAT gift I gave myself as a mom, was also the FIRST ever gift I gave my future mom-self. The idea was born by pure chance and necessity. When I was about to become a mother for the first time, a close friend at work was sampling her lunch across the desk from me. She told me about SupperWorks, a service her mother had recently used where you could pick six, nine or 12 entrées from a menu, assemble them at one of the company’s kitchens located in Toronto and the GTA, then freeze them at home and defrost at your convenience. “Hey!” she looked me with new intention in her eyes, “we should go together! You can freeze these meals and then you’ll have food for when the baby comes!”
At the time we didn’t have close family living with us in Canada and nobody to help me cook as I figure out this whole parenting gig. My friend’s idea made all the sense in the world and I ended up utilizing the service several times during my first and second mat leaves. SupperWorks is available in Toronto and the GTA.
My Social Book is a website that allows you to convert your Facebook (and Instagram) profiles into a book. Once you log onto My Social Book it will prompt you to define the timeframe you want printed and select the categories you would like to include (status updates, timeline photos, mobile uploads etc). You can then also work within every separate category and manually deselect posts you don’t want featured.
As a chronically overwhelmed mom who didn’t yet recover from the shock of childbirth (four and seven years ago) I have way too few family photo albums to show for my “new” status and two embarrassingly thin baby books. I did, however, obsessively document and share everything funny and touching my children said over the years, every milestone they hit and every good and bad haircut they got on Facebook. This was the quickest means of documenting things. I’ve often done that with a bit of a pinch in my heart knowing that I’m basically condemning all this wonderfulness to oblivion (and I ask myself where my seven year-old gets his flair for drama), since we can’t realistically (or even technically, I believe) scroll back six years to find out when exactly our child started walking. My Social Book allows just that and I still want to chest bump myself for this fantastic investment.
Sometimes knowing that you need to recharge isn’t enough. You need someone to provide the “how to.” At one point last year I realized that I was no longer okay with simply being unsatisfied with how impatient I became as a mom and reading parenting books in search of coping tools. Don’t get me wrong, noticing areas for improvement and aspiring for a change is better than the alternative, but I felt like the books weren’t doing enough to help me with my frustration around two-hour long bedtimes and with the stress that my fear for my children’s safety evoked whenever these two young and rambunctious boys would start pushing each other in the shower or play wrestling, for example.
I’ve been following Sarah Rudell Beach’s blog Left Brain Buddha for awhile and in that time she’s also become a friend. In recent years Sarah, an experienced history, psychology and anthropology teacher, mother and mindfulness instructor decided to combine her passions into one and she’s been teaching online mindfulness courses for mothers (among other groups), Mindfulness for Mothers. This comprehensive online course teaches the basics of mindfulness and meditation in a way that is geared toward moms, their circumstances and time constraints. It emphasizes other important principles such as self care as a basis and a requirement for caring for others. The course is six weeks long and designed in a way that allows you to review the units at your own pace with unlimited access to the course’s materials upon completion. I was initially hesitant about the effectiveness of online studies, never having taken an online course before, but it was delivered in an interactive way offering multiple ways of interacting and communicating with the instructor (a course Facebook group, for example).
I think that what makes all three of those gifts different and more meaningful than other things I bought and regretted is the fact that while those other items didn’t transcend their immediate gratification purpose and remained just that, gifts, I view the three services/products I discussed here as more of an investment in myself and my family.
The scariest thing is that I never even thought about it in sexual harassment terms until my husband shared an alarming statistic with me about the number of girls who experience assault in our home country. The numbers seemed unreasonably high and it got me reflecting on my own experience. I was never raped. Nothing TERRIBLE ever happened. It’s not like I was groped. Or was I?
I was riding the public bus with my grandma. I must have just turned thirteen. I was getting ready to get off the bus. Embarrassed to be accompanied by a grownup, I rushed past a group of boys my age and made my way to the exit independently. I was close to the doors when someone pinched my butt strongly, in a “make it count” kind of way. I didn’t say anything. I got off the bus, not infuriated but kind of shocked and embarrassed. I don’t remember if I told my grandma. This memory was then archived somewhere in my mind where unpleasant but not terrible memories go, since, hey, nothing terrible happened, no one got hurt. Sure, I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and a little bit disgusted with the way the light blue tall cut Levi’s must have emphasized my rear end, framing it as something asking to be touched, but this wasn’t really sexual harassment, because sexual harassment practically didn’t exist. There was no internet or open discourse back then and sex education was about how our bodies will change, not about how to say no and maybe this was even before sex ed, who remembers?
And then I was 20 and waiting for a girlfriend not too far from the entrance to a park on a busy Tel-Aviv street on a Friday noon. A middle aged man walked up to me, quickly profiling me as Russian (there was a huge immigration wave from Russia happening at the time. My family immigrated earlier in the 1970s). He addressed me in Russian without even confirming that I spoke it first, because let’s face it, I didn’t really matter. In a saccharine tone and with a thick accent of a non-native speaker, who memorized the sentence, he asked “are you working, sweetheart?”
Disgusted, I deliberately answered in Hebrew. “Pardon me?” He chuckled dismissively and went on to babble as I listened to his incoherent and not at all apologetic cop-out. I listened, programmed to follow social cues, not knowing how to rock the boat even if I wanted to. When that short interaction ended, I was equally disgusted with myself for my inability to tell him off and the way I must have brought this on myself in the first place. There was nothing in my appearance or clothing that I would consider provocative (“it’s about how YOU dress, the message you send, SHE wanted it”). I was wearing a floral-pattern brown, flowy, loose dress with wide straps and a white t-shirt underneath. The dress was long, hitting my ankles exposing only the tall, brown military-type boots I was wearing. It was the 90s and this was one of my favourite dresses. I bought it with the small salary I was earning as a soldier because it reminded me of something that Kelly wore on Beverly Hills 90210.
I don’t think I ever wore that dress again. THAT wasn’t sexual harassment either. Nobody ever touched me. Nobody got hurt and let’s not forget that it was partially "my fault." Despite being born and raised in Israel I didn’t look local enough. I looked too Russian, and human trafficking from Russia was happening, increasing the percentage of Russian-speaking prostitutes. The whole interaction was perfectly disgusting yet made perfect sense.
There were other instances where my will as a grown woman now living in Canada was both more clearly stated and just as blatantly ignored, but the past few days in our news cycle made me think about that early stage in life when our views on what’s normal and acceptable are shaped.
And this is what I realized:
A terrible thing had happened to me those years. I never learned early in life (in a non-sexual context) how to say: no, stop, or I don’t like this and that influenced not only my reactions to situations like the ones I described above, but also my relationships. It dictated my decision making processes and sometimes shaped my life. But most importantly it shaped my relationship with myself. I got hurt by other people and I didn’t stand beside me.
Last week at recess my seven year-old son got banned from a game by an older friend because he didn’t understand the rules. When I picked him up at lunch time my son told me this in a defeated tone yet reassured me that he was “cool with that:” that being banned from all games initiated by the older friend.
Last week we watched what happens when two older dudebros (a term coined by Luvvie Ajayi of the blog Awesomely Luvvie) are dudebroing about grabbing women by their private parts and kissing them against their will.
So far despite my best efforts all evidence points to the fact that I’m raising a people pleaser, similar to myself. I am going to make a concentrated effort to equip him with tools to know his own rights, when and how to say NO and advocate for himself and to understand the meaning of consent and the rights of others and how to say no and stop on their behalf when those rights are being violated. I’ll know that I’ve succeeded if I ever hear that upon witnessing injustice my son felt infuriated and outraged not shocked and embarrassed.