I’m always flirting with the danger of being a little too stuck in the past sometimes. I revisit old lovers, I regularly journey wistfully into ill-advised nostalgic reverie. Even my novel focuses on past lives! I have always sought out connections to the past at every opportunity. And while I want to live in present and often do, I like to revisit where I’ve been to put my current life in perspective. Re-framing the view I have of who I was better informs my inspiration for where I want to go.
Here I take a look back at who I was before – how I viewed the world, where stood and the voice I once carried before any of you knew me. I won’t post everything I’ve ever written (how embarrassing?!) but in this series, I’ll revisit an old post with the benefit of distancing myself from the immediacy of my reactions and drama that probably first inspired the post. And by bringing some current perspective on the whole thing, I can find the thread that deserves to be part of my journey moving forward.
I’ll try not to editorialize the original post (too much) unless I catch a clear error, but I will be offering some context and closure, like writing a letter to the person I was back then from the wiser woman I am now.
Welcome to La Rosa’s Letters
My very first blog post
Original Post: December 15, 2003
there’s something attached
Right now I’m typing one-handed because there is a little baby attached to me. “rest when the baby rests” is the advice of the dozen websites aimed at helping new parents–I mean, new moms. Most of those websites don’t even pretend to help the male counterparts, except to suggest that they help the new mom by emptying the diaper pail every now and again. Of course, they don’t tell you what to do if a six-year-old and 1 month-old are both vying for the same precious amount of time–the time that the new mother should be resting and “becoming one with her womanhood”. To make matters worse, instead of empowering women (and men) to be realistic and yet acceptable parents, these sites, these experts indoctrinate us with some version of perfection that has been the source of many sleepless nights and even more therapy bills.
This little child left to my care and responsibility will be my teacher. He will let me know what he needs. He will let me know if I’m doing a good job or not. The experts don’t share in my extreme fatigue or exasperation. They do not have to make the same decisions as I’ve faced this past month.
Something is attached to the free advice of the armchair critics, it’s the endless perfectionism that prevents us from accomplishing anything (or ever accepting anything that we’ve accomplished). It’s the mindless search for the ultimate solution to each problem. It’s the irrational quest to prevent every social and natural ill. It’s the journey toward an impossible fortress of preparedness and anticipation.
Along the way, we collect mementos–anxiety, greed, insecurity, depression, and of course guilt for something that was never truly in our control. So, while I have a baby attached at the moment, I’m desperately trying to shed the extra weight that “experts” have placed on my shoulders so that I may better attach that child to my life.My original blog: LaRosaLoca.livejournal.com (moved to bella-peligrosa.livejournal.com)
The Context: My First Blog Post
Wow, this is truly where it all started. Sure, I had a MySpace at the time, but it couldn’t accommodate a post like this, or connect me to a community that could understand my frustration in the way this did.
I was a month postnatal, exhausted from trying to balance everything, even with help, I was ready to give up. So much conflicting advice or unrealistic models of women who were far more perfect than me. I was frustrated and angry, so this first post was my small protest against the impossible standards thrown at us all day. This was the first glimmer of my life projected across the vast, virtual world.
Following a programmed path
All of this started because I failed at being Wonder Woman and I needed a place to express the anguish, grief, and distrust it stirred in me.
Flashback to May 2003, just seven months before this post. I graduated from law school and was in my second year of a dual-degree graduate program in public policy. I was pregnant and was raising my (step)son full-time. And despite all the ways in which I tried to ensure that I didn’t become one of those lawyers, I didn’t realize until just recently how much I had succumbed to the sick competition and quest for excellence our profession requires of us. And despite the fact that I had already had a close call at nine weeks into my pregnancy I insisted I had to power through it, stacking as much as I could on my shoulders.
After all, I was Little Miss Wonder. I could do it all. I could balance a dual degree program on top of raising kids and making a home with my husband. I could volunteer as a mentor and still canvass for Democratic campaigns. Never mind I was losing weight in my pregnancy up until the month of the bar exam. And while there will always be a “Janet way of doing things”, I refused to listen to my own body or the one growing inside me.
Because if I had, I would have seen that buying and moving into a new house right after law school would have been plenty of stress. But nooooo, that wasn’t enough for Janet. I had to do that AND continue with grad school AND study for the bar exam AND wrestle with the start of polyamory AND raise a 6-year-old who really needed me. I was driven to succeed for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivated me back then. It wasn’t that I needed to pass the bar exam to work in legislation and politics or nonprofits. It was that I needed to pass to satisfy my ego need to prove myself.
Patriarchy demands we prove ourselves worthy
Something creepy had happened to me while I was in law school, a transformation that I thought I had been actively resisting: the reprogramming of the lawyer brain. It hits like a tidal wave at first in 1L (that’s “First Year” for you non-law school muggles). We are being trained in how to “think like a lawyer” which is a cute way of saying we are reprogrammed to use our creative and intuitive powers to serve the almighty traditions that patriarchy loves best: competition, possession, and power packaged as “justice”. In 1L we are being cut down to size, in 2L we’re worked to death until we bleed and sweat black letter law and in 3L we have grown so accustomed to it, we forget how to talk to real people without coming off as snobby or superior.
And if I sound cynical, it was because I originally went to law school specifically to learn how to create more persuasive and effective policy. Literally, that was it. I never really wanted to be a lawyer in the same way my classmates did. I wanted to use that knowledge to unlock deeper truths about humanity – to help us learn how to be better to each other, how to make our laws less traumatic. Inspired by my mom’s own court case, I wanted to prevent others from enduring what we did, how to use the healing power of love to create actual justice.
But by the time I got out, no matter how much I resisted the indoctrination of the legal profession by choosing a “non-traditional path”, nonetheless just days after graduation, after my first wedding anniversary, I was marching off to study for the bar exam like the rest of them.
And let me tell you, the bar exam is no small feat. I took it seriously, but I severely underestimated that studying for the bar was NOTHING like studying for a law school exam. It was like taking an exam with a lottery composed entirely of evil pop quiz questions. It is a test of disciplined memorization and strict application – which was not where I excel. I create a thorough and inventive analysis, making a policy perspective into an unexpected argument. Nor did I know that I was constantly masking chronic symptoms of ADHD. My procrastination was because my brain was overwhelmed with a blatantly superficial approach to what I felt should be a question of quality over quantity. But more importantly, I underestimated the effect that these toxic levels of chronic stress would have on me and my baby.
Pregnancy wasn’t without its magic – or irony. My kid moved for the first time the day before the bar exam. My husband had taken me out to see Pirates of the Caribbean that night to distract me from the stress of what was coming for me the next day. I knew I wasn’t prepared, how could I be? I had to take at least a week off to move our apartment and set up our new house. My back injuries were aggravated by the pregnancy weight. But when the baby moved while we waited for the movie – I felt such a connection that moment that I chose the name from the song that had been playing, like he had lept for joy at that name, choosing it with us. How could I possibly sit for the bar exam after an experience like that?
But I did. And the proctors gave me sympathetic glances every time I got up to go to the bathroom or when I was squirming in my chair. I was so distracted and distraught, stressed and fatigued that I couldn’t remember any of the elements of a common-law marriage, one of the easiest questions in the essays, one I totally missed. I spiraled hard after that, knowing in my heart that I didn’t pass. I had spent the first five months of my pregnancy either in law school or preparing for the bar. I couldn’t connect with my body any longer. My ego took over. It needed me to win at the bar exam because I felt like each passing day was creating a worse impact on the pregnancy. I needed to know the sacrifices were worth it. But I would find out just two weeks later that I was gestationally diabetic and therefore was high risk.
Failure inspires forgiveness
I failed the bar not just once, but twice (I passed the third time, thanks) and that translated into feeling like an intellectual failure. When instead, if I wasn’t so disconnected from myself, I might have seen that this path just wasn’t for me. Instead, I used the failure to decide that I didn’t try hard enough, I didn’t sacrifice enough. I didn’t want to admit defeat. I didn’t want to abandon the possibilities this presented for my life’s work. I could reject a lot of the law school programming like moot court and law review but I was reluctant to reject the bar exam; I felt like I needed to prove I was a “real lawyer”.
The doctors told me to start scaling back all that I was doing, but I was already headlong into my final year for my graduate program. I put so much pressure on myself that I created stress for my child, stress that he carries in the depth of his bones today. But why? What for? To please whom?
I carried a lot of guilt over the years. Was it worth the cost to my family to doggedly pursue the bar exam those first few years? Did the lesson have to be so damn costly? How could I not have seen the intricate patterns of patriarchy controlling my heart and life’s path through the law? Did I do all of this for nothing?
But now, when I look back on it, I have so much more compassion for that scared new mom who tried power through a difficult pregnancy, masking the intense imposter syndrome and intellectual insecurity that was really at play. That was the thing, I got so caught up in things like possessing a law license, proving my worth to a bunch of attorneys and judges, winning just to prove that I could that I lost connection to my own intuitive guidance, the gut reaction that would tell me what truly serves me. I cared more for whether others saw me as an attorney than I did about remaining authentic to myself.
Before law school, I could be proud of my badass Bessemer self for beating the odds time and again, for carving out a path all my own. My high school friends would have described me as “mature and self-possessed”. But afterward, I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to undermine the direction my compass was pointing. I was constantly expecting someone to judge me unworthy or deflate my pride. My creative powers went toward reinforcing my fears of failure, reminding me that I was always just going to be an imposter, not a “real lawyer”. And the fun part about manifestation is the more you focus on what you don’t want, the more of it the universe sends you.
I have so much tenderness for the woman I was when it was all started to spiral out of my control. I can feel forgiveness for not being able to pull off the impossible, for having the fallibility of “sleeping for two”. But I can see how I fashioned that failure into a fittingly humiliating albatross that I carried for years inspiring a repeating pattern of perpetual self-harm. Death by a thousand self-aggressive cuts.
Awakening the Goddess
The night I wrote that first post, I felt like the fog was clearing for a moment. The sociologist in me could see that the feelings of failure were being perpetuated and created by the media stories we choose to tell. How many editors rejected books about parenting that challenges traditional norms? Or how many articles were canned because they were too grossly honest about the pains of motherhood? How many parents still cannot even talk about daycare or nursing on a public forum without someone judging them harshly for their situation? And don’t even get me started about the lopsided information about circumcision (Thank you, Otter, for educating me on this subject) or the ways in which we normalize consent violations in forcing kids to hug creepy relatives.
That night, I got so angry that I started a LiveJournal account and just had to post my truth somewhere: Mothers are made to feel isolated, separated from the truth of our bodies, our feelings, our sexuality, creating loneliness within ourselves. Because for a time, our bodies weren’t our own. No matter how wanted the child was, how welcome the experience was, our rhythms weren’t our own. Hell, even our cravings weren’t our own. And God bless, but no one will let us forget it either. “You’re eating for two now,” they chuckle as they nonconsensually lump more potato salad on our plates or rub our bellies without asking. And if that wasn’t enough of a reminder that our choices are not our own, after birth we then are judged if we don’t slim down quickly enough. The message is clear: our bodies were always for someone else – disconnected from our own agency.
And even though I typed this missive while my baby fell asleep nursing I felt more embodied at that moment than I had the whole of my pregnancy. Clarity was the gift I received this blessed night – the night before my birthday, the night before my infant turned one month old. I finally started seeing the indoctrination that was happening with motherhood advice. Just like I had been reprogrammed to think like a lawyer, in all the online parenting magazines and blogs, I was being programmed to comply with the perfection standards expected of me. I was being programmed to uphold the structural beliefs of patriarchy by constantly feeling like not enough as a mother, by comparing myself to others, by obedience to an aesthetic and value system that served a cis, white, straight model of parenting.
For if we’re spun up enough dancing under the neurotic microscope of not-good-enough-isms, fighting ideological battles of emotion we have no hope of winning, then we have no energy left to pursue our true purpose – to model a better world and that includes being brilliantly multi-dimensional – a true threat to patriarchy’s fetish for power and control.
So I took this chance, this first step into declaring war on the forces that were holding me down. To expose even in this small way the forces that lock motherhood into a pristine, chaste bubble obsessed with the pursuit of a perfection that doesn’t exist. Because if it does exist, it only serves patriarchy, to keep children quiet and out of sight, to keep mothers docile and dependent, to afford even more freedom to authoritative men to do whatever the fuck it is they think they’re doing.
Make no mistake…patriarchy will find no shelter from my empathic rage. A righteous reckoning is coming. A tidal wave of inclusion, equality, autonomy, expression, and authentic kindness is gathering force as we speak. The time is coming and the towers of patriarchy will come down under our command.
This post was my first small act of defiance. My first protest sign in the war we are all gearing up for now. We have no idea how important our stories are until after we’ve lived them, viewed them years later through the eyes of compassion. Don’t ever let your story die untold.
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