Musings

I’m Not a Midwife

When I was 9 years old my first brother was born. I was thrilled to be designated official videographer of the homebirth. After all, that obviously put me at the same rank as the actual photographer, and he was a wicked cool guy with an amazing camera. “Click,” as 3 year old Claire called him, wasn’t the only person at the birth I was taken with. Miss Kathy, the tattooed, motorcycle riding, short little grandma midwife whose house my parents practically lived at for the month of February. I decided that I wanted to be just like her. She is kind and gentle, but also strong, physically and emotionally.snail

For the next 9 years I would grow more and more passionate about my eventual career as a midwife. Since Mom had started working as a lactation consultant again when I was finishing high school, I was already in position to start studying. For the last two years of high school I was around midwives, doulas and other birth workers, attending homebirth classes, first with my Mom, then by myself once the teachers knew me better. This wasn’t just some passing fancy of a teenager; I had my apprenticeship worked out.

The first step was to become a doula. The August after graduation I enrolled in a birth doula training course. It had been said that this was where most potential midwives were weeded out, but I was determined that I wouldn’t be one of those undedicated, dispassionate students.

But I was. And at the same time, I wasn’t.

I finished the training, but afterwards I didn’t even attempt to continue with the certification. Throughout the class my passion, dedication and adrenaline had heightened. I was learning a lot, but most of it was only a continuation of things I already knew. It was easy for me. Then, near the end of the week, we had a session on working with abuse victims.

On the way home that night I sobbed.

It wasn’t only because of the emotional drain of talking about abuse all day. That had been fine at the time. I cried because I knew I was done. The road was taking me elsewhere and the destination wasn’t at all where I had expected. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why, but there was a sense of completion. What needed to be learned was learned. I didn’t know it for a long time, but I have come to realize that this was the beginning of my journey to reconciling my past with my mental health, and beginning to seek healing.

The next 6 months were tumultuous. It was too late to enroll at community college, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that, or if I was smart enough. What was my purpose? The passion I had felt was real, I have no doubt of that. It just didn’t lead me down the path I originally thought. Finding its location has been one of my missions this past year, and I still don’t know exactly where it is.

I’m halfway done with my second spring semester. There are still plenty of things I’m unsure of, but I do know that going to school was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m a completely different person than I was, even only a year ago, and I’m a much better version of myself now. But if I were to be truly honest, even with the reinforcement of an invitation to the honors society and a job in the tutoring center, I often feel that I’ll be found out to be an idiot at any moment. I just finished my application to study theater tech at University of Central Missouri some time in the next year. There are a lot of things I don’t know about, but underneath the insecurity, depression and anxiety, I know moving forward is a good thing.

I still want to be like Miss Kathy. I want to be strong and kind. I want to inspire; to change people’s lives for the better. I want a little girl to look at me and say, “That. I want to be like that.”

I know I’m not a midwife. I don’t know everything I am, but I do know that I am a storyteller, a collector, a writer, and a teacher.

Actions in Activities, Musings

Don’t Give Up

Few things make me quite as nostalgic as a debate tournament. Now, I was never a fantastic debater. While winning two out of three rounds wasn’t a huge shock, it was still often a surprise. But I loved it.

I didn’t fall in love with debate right away though. My first tournament was epic. A thing of legend. It was terrible. My partner and I were both first year debaters and we really had no idea what we were doing. She didn’t seem to care that we were doing so poorly, and it drove me insane. But since she was more comfortable speaking and I just wanted to sit in the corner and pretend I was somewhere else, she gave two of our three speeches. I spent most of the time staring at my paper trying to figure out what to write down. When it was my turn to speak, I stood up, thanked the judge, timekeeper and peanut gallery, read the few words I may or may not have written down, stared at my mostly blank piece of paper for a minute or so, said “um” a lot, and sat down. That first tournament I got 1 out of 5 points in nearly every speaker category, in nearly every round. I swore “never again.” I was done with debate, speaking, everything. That was my first tournament, and I was determined that it would be my last. My parents had other ideas. I had to finish the semester and compete in the rest of the tournaments, but after that semester was over I could be done.

It still irks me to say this, (what can say? I inherited my parents combined stubbornness) but I’m so glad that I finished that term.

I learned so much in my time as a debater. It’s not just the obvious things you would think of either. Everyone expects that, of course, public speaking is a nearly universally useful skill. You use it in almost every profession, as well as jobs that lead up to whatever career you pursue (“Would you like fries with that?”). The critical thinking habits are obviously invaluable. But those aren’t the ones that meant the most to me. The lessons that meant to most to me were ones of confidence.

The thing about debate is, sometimes your team can win a round without actually being the better speakers. A first year debater can destroy a seasoned team by pointing out one logical fallacy. A timid speaker can turn a theatrical orator’s case into a colander with the right points. The confidence boost of a win, or even the possibility of a win, is indescribable and addictive. I’ve seen this happen as both a debater and as a judge, and it’s awesome.

When I first started debate, all I wanted to do was melt into the wall. By the end of my senior year, I was often in tears because I didn’t want it to end. Debate can be an amazing activity, but remember five things for me.

  • Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t feel bad when you make one, but when your opponent does, nail ’em. Politely. With a smile.
  • Conversely, when your opponent nails you for a mistake, don’t take it personally. Still be polite and try to remember to smile.
  • You will lose rounds. It’s not a reflection of your worth as a human being.
  • You will think of what would have been the winning argument for those rounds on your way home from the tournament. File it away and be ready for next time.
  • It’s just a game. You are not a lawyer. No one will die or go to prison if you mess up. Have fun.

And parents, please remember that these are kids. Don’t berate them for making mistakes. That’s part of learning.

Farm and Family, Musings

Pieces: Big Fur Coat

TW: self harm, self hate

Depression’s like a big fur coat,
It’s made of dead things but it keeps me warm ~ Iodine, Icon for Hire

(Internal monologue) No, you don’t need to tell anyone about this. It will only make them feel bad, or ashamed, or remember their own pain. It’s not that big of a deal. No, you do need to talk about it. Isn’t that reluctance a sign that it needs to be out in the open? Some people may not understand the thought process behind it, and they need to know that it can be nearly invisible. And I need people to know this about me. Deep breath.

I struggle with depression and self harm. I don’t remember not hating myself. As a small child I hated that I couldn’t learn to read or ride a bike. As a preteen I hated that I was a girl, that I had feelings that I couldn’t understand or express, and that I had night terrors. As a teen I had successfully turned off all handflowersemotions except hate and anger, but it wasn’t acceptable to express those, so I aimed them at myself as best as I could. I wasn’t always successful in this though, so my self loathing grew stronger. I couldn’t keep up with all of the things I was supposed to do as a good Christian girl. If I couldn’t even function in this obviously basic lifestyle, of what value was I?

I called a friend the other day and cried for a couple of hours. I had never told anyone about my depression or self harm. It wasn’t very visible. I was ashamed of my feelings. The feelings of loathing and worthlessness were so huge that they would fill me, and I had to find a physical manifestation. I wanted to cut, but I was so scared that someone would find out if I did anything that looked so deliberate. So I got very clumsy. I am naturally a clumsy person, I think it has something to do with the combination of being tall and having tiny duck feet. But this was purposeful. I would punch brick walls and “rap my knuckles.” I would kick brick walls and “stub my toe.” I would hit my head on, yeah, brick walls and “have a headache” (I often did have headaches). The closest I got to cutting was biting my fingers. I always hated how my hands looked, so I didn’t care if there were scars or scabs. Those could be explained away easily too. I love climbing trees and working with my hands, stuff happens.

Learning to love myself has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t control my urges to act on my feelings. I couldn’t keep up with my “Christian disciplines.” I couldn’t do enough to make a difference in the world. My self worth was based on what I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t until someone told me that I was good enough and in control that I even considered either of those to be possibilities. When someone else told me that I had beautiful hands I laughed in their face, but it was another mile marker.

I’m still learning to see the good in myself. I love my hair and my eyes. I’ve figured out some things that make me feel not just like a girl, but pretty. I am a good writer. I have deep, poetic thoughts, and people like to hear them sometimes. I have accepted these things about myself, but what’s harder to accept is the fact that they aren’t consistent. Not everything I write has to be perfect, and that’s ok. My hair is a mess a lot of the time, but it has so much personality I love it anyway.

I wish I could say that I am past self harm. And I was for a while. But I have relapses. I slip back into patterns that should never have been in the first place. Part of me doesn’t want to write about it until I’m healed. But then, part of me thinks that sharing about my pain may be part of my healing. It’s just so damn hard to trust anyone when those closest to you are the ones that hurt you.

Farm and Family, Musings

Pieces: What Was That?

We throw tantrums like parties
We’re not happy ’til everyone knows we’re sick
And that’s just how we like it
We’ve hurt bad enough, right, we’ve earned it ~ Get Well, Icon for Hire

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out. I’ve been thinking about it for months. I haven’t been able to write anything because it’s been in the forefront of my mind, taking up all of the space. I hate writing about things that aren’t resolved. You write what you know, not what you don’t know. But sometimes we don’t know what the thesis statement is for a period of our lives.

I want to start out by saying that I love my parents. They were tricked by people who they viewed as authorities, who themselves had been tricked. But I can’t let that love keep me from telling my story.

Illusion_by_nondani

I read a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous. I would say I enjoy reading it, but that sounds wrong. It is full of stories of former homeschool students who have escaped the fundamentalist environment where they were abused, and how transitioning to life on the outside has been. It’s sick. It’s demented. The things that have been done in the name of Christ are abhorrent.

I read it for the same reason they write it. To validate our past experiences. Sometimes the stories are almost identical to my own, but not usually. They are usually much more abusive and extreme. There are aspects that I can relate to, but the intensity of it makes my empathy ache.

For a time this contrast made me question my analysis of my childhood. Was it really that bad? Was that really abuse? I mean, I only remember one short period of time when any of my siblings were bruised from spanking. I was only hit a handful of times because I was older when we started following a fundamentalist lifestyle. But then, if it wasn’t abuse, why do I still show signs of an abuse survivor? Why do I feel so validated by songs like Get Well by Icon for Hire or Shatter Me by Lindsey Stirling? Why do I still have such a hard time letting myself have platonic relationships, let alone harbor the thought of a long term romantic relationship? Trust issues and self harm don’t just happen without a reason.

A dear friend told me the other day, “Just because someone else had it worse doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to hurt.” This is hard to believe sometimes. I don’t want to marginalize the experience of others. But I have to remind myself that it’s not a contest. Just because I was never beaten doesn’t mean I wasn’t abused. Emotional abuse can be very invisible, but have the same results as a belt. My parents didn’t hit me, but the way they made me feel lead me to hit myself.

Don’t tell the others but it’s all getting old
I mean how many more times must our stories be told?
And being lonely’s only fun in a group
It sort of loses it’s charm when it’s true ~ Get Well, Icon for Hire

Farm and Family, Musings

10 Reasons Growing Up in a Big Family Wins

My family has 6 kids. The dynamics of things are kind of different when you have this many people living under one roof. Dishes are mountainous. Laundry is unending. Privacy can be illusive. Ziplocks are a hot commodity, and I’m still not sure why. But even with things that could be perceived as hardships or inconveniences, life in a big family is pretty awesome. I found a Buzzfeed post the other night (don’t judge me) listing 23 things you get used to when you live in an above average family. Since a lot of my facebook friends are from large families, this sparked quite a hilarious conversation (primarily about food and socks). Since everyone seem to be challenging people lately, my mom challenged me to write a blog post of the 10 best things about living in a large family. The list was not allowed to be sarcastic, but could be humorous. Easy. Without further ado, roughly in order, but not really, my 10 favorite things about living in a large family:mylifeessgood

10. You have several personal book, movie, tv and music reviewers. I cannot tell you how many times one of my sisters (and even Adam every now and then) has sent me a link to a new song or artist. We compare Pandora stations. We send each other youtube videos. The number of books that have been thrown at me by my siblings isn’t too great yet, since I’m the oldest and self proclaimed family librarian, but there have been a few. For instance, Claire read The Hunger Games before either Meg or I did. Usually I’m the one who reads or watches something first, but I’m predicting that this will change once we are all grown up.

9. You have a built in study group. For most of my life, Meg and I have been at about the same skill level in most things. I understand some things better than she does, and she understands some things better than I do. We all bounce ideas for writing assignments off each other. Two heads are better than one, right? How much better would three or four head be?

8. You have a higher chance of being fashionable. This isn’t always true. At all. But I have noticed, at least in families with many girls, that the likelihood of someone having a built in fashion sense is fairly high. Some people have a friend with taste, I have a sister. Well, actually, I have three, each with their own sense of style. If I want to know what looks good on me, I ask Meg. If I want to find an epic t-shirt or other quirky-cool item, I ask Claire. If I want to just have fun, I’ll let Hannah dress me (If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed this).

7. You have a brute squad. “I’m on the brute squad.” “You are the brute squad!” Have you seen the new version of Yours, Mine, and Ours? There is a scene near the end where two of the boys are being harassed by some bullies at school, and one by one their siblings intervene. “That’s just ignorant.” “And you know how you get rid of ignorance?” “Butt-whoopin’.” Not that I condone violence or anything…

6. You learn how to fight fair. Come on, you know it’s true. Fighting happens even in the most peaceful homes. But this is simply part of life. You will, at some point, disagree with someone, probably get emotionally involved, and have to resolve the situation. I’m not saying fighting is a good thing, but since it happens throughout life, I’m figuring you may as well learn how to do it well. Getting involved with speech and debate is also very helpful, and actually made us fight less, and more efficiently. Siblings don’t always resolve their issues. There are plenty of estranged and strained relationships, but I would speculate that the majority of people with siblings have good relationships with them.

5. You learn how to live in a group setting. Obvious right? But after spending some time at camp, I realise how important of a thing this is. Once when we were discussing what to have for dinner, spaghetti was suggested. I stated that everyone hates spaghetti, and so other ideas were brought up. Mom brought spaghetti up again, and said she liked it. Then, one by one, every single member of my family betrayed me. “Everyone else likes spaghetti. Annie just hates it so much that she fills to room with her hatred.” I’m pretty sure we ended up having spaghetti that night. (for the record, I don’t hate spaghetti, I just don’t like to have it more than, say, once a month, and rarely choose it if there are other options.)

4. You have different perspectives on life events. You may have best friends that you grew up with, but even they probably weren’t there for everything. A brother or sister, even if they are older or younger, you probably share many of the same memories.

3. You develop a family lexicon and innumerable inside jokes. If we pull up to a drive-thru and someone shouts “Get out your coffeemakers!” don’t be surprised. In fact, if we say just about anything, and start to giggle or nod, just assume it is part of our family culture, smile, and carry on with your life. You can probably ask about it if you really want to know, but we may or may not even remember how the trend or saying got started. It’s just what we do.

2. You get to see kids grow up, without having to raise them yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I do want some littles of my own one day, but not yet. Having a toddler in the house, but being able to leave and not have to worry about him is just about the coolest thing ever (sorry Mom). You get to know humans in progress, and learn from them, and watch them be hilarious, but they are still your peers on some level, or at least they will be eventually.

1. You learn how to entertain.  When I was about 9 years old we lived in Middle-of-Nowhere KY, 30 minutes from a gas station. At this point there were only 3 of us, but we were still homeschooled and still fairly secluded. We had tv, but not cable, and PBS kids cut out in the middle of the afternoon. We had internet, but it was dial-up (I still got hooked on gaming… Very slow gaming.) I couldn’t read at this point either. This left us with essentially one option for occupying our free time (which, in all honesty, was most of  the time). We played, and we played hard. But this wasn’t just building mud villages and becoming dirt people. We learned how to not only entertain ourselves when there is nothing else to do, but also how to be generally entertaining. In life, if you can make people laugh and keep their attention, it doesn’t matter what you aim to do, people will notice you. And when people notice you, sometimes they give you a job, and sometimes you make relationships.

Well, there you have it. These don’t apply to all families. I know some families where the opposite of many of these points is true. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Having a big family is hard. We fight hard, we play hard, we love hard (“I love you SO HARD!”). And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Short

First Day on Campus

I’m sitting in the commons area. The ebb and flow of students is nearly fascinating. Nearly. People watching is actually an interesting thing to occupy yourself with here. It’s amazing how different the population is so close to home. The populace of our small town is primarily WASPs in camo hunting gear. The town where I work is fairly racially mixed, but also fairly urban. In one corner there are several tables of people playing Magic: the Gathering and other card games. Along the walls there are dozens of faces lit by bright computer screens, or they would be if the window behind them didn’t create such a glare. Sprinkled throughout there are groups of old friends, catching up after a summer away from school. “Ashley! I didn’t know you were going here!” “Hey Jason what are you taking?” This world is very different from any I’ve been in before.

People speak disparagingly of freshman, but then asking simple questions that make me chuckle under my breath. What’s the difference between you and us, other than the number of years you’ve studied? If those years haven’t taught you some of these simple things, what do they really mean?

As the clock reaches the top of the hour, the hall clears out and the volume level drops, but only a little. I only have two classes on Wednesday, but they are 4 hours apart. While having a math class at 8 in the morning, half an hour away from home is primarily a pain in the neck, it does get me a good parking space. This morning after class was over, I tried to connect to the internet. Whether the problem was with my computer or the network, I have no idea. I really don’t care at this point though. I’m just glad to be connected.

So far it’s been an interesting first day. Let’s see what the rest of the semester holds.

Books and Movies, Musings

Read It And Weep

I talk about books all the time. We know this by now, I hope. Honestly though, if you think it is bad online, you should see me in person. Sometimes, if there is a really awkward silence, I will just randomly ask someone if they have read A Wrinkle In Time. But I haven’t always had this relationship with words.

I’ve never been tested, but I’m positive I have some sort of learning disability, and possibly a bit of dyslexia. I didn’t read independently until I was about 9 or 10 years old. Mom did everything “right”. We had books everywhere. She read to me. I knew my alphabet. Heck, in college she majored in journalism and Dad majored in history. There was no lack of joanofarcexposure to books of all kinds. Mom started working with me when I was about 6, but it just frustrated me. We played the phonics game, read the Bob books, and all kinds of variations of the two. I remember her writing out the words of a Bob book on 4×6 index cards one word at a time because those three words were too overwhelming.

She was incredibly patient. Eventually, she just left me alone. The books were still there. She would still read to my younger sisters, but didn’t force me to join. Every once in a while we’d work on it again, but for the most part, Mom just let me be. And that is when it clicked. I remember distinctly. One day I opened up the Dorling Kindersley reader version of Joan of Arc, and I just read it. I was kind of surprised, but I just read. Soon after that I started writing poetry, and jumped straight to thick chapter books (A Wrinkle In Time being my first favorite.)

This is how school always was for me. Mom would sweat over it for a little while, try to teach me, but in the end, I learned on my own, on my own time. Not during a set school time. Not with a set school book. Not with a set teaching tool or lesson plan. She figured this out, and pretty much left me alone. We were talking about it a few weeks ago after I got back some test scores, and I really only did about 3 years worth of actual schoolwork in those 12 years I was “in school”. And yet, I’ve never really gotten what you would call “bad marks” when I’ve tested.

So, to the moms who are stressing out over their kid’s academics, don’t. Sometimes they don’t need a different curriculum or a more strict lesson plan. Sometimes they just need space. Your child is learning about life, maybe they need that more than multiplication right now. Keep the books around, but don’t push them. And for all that is good and decent, do not take away the fun. Let them play. Playing is learning how to live. Books will come later. You are doing a great job. Just keep loving your child and getting to know them.