What I Never Knew About Grief

Quick link: Things No One Told Me about Grief

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This essay is at Brain Child. It is about the loss of a child and about grief and love and community. I’m thankful for my editor there, Randi Olin, who sadly understands the experience and who graciously helped me turn emotion into words for when there really are no words. I hope the words here are honoring, that they are honest, maybe encouraging to someone.

Before computers, when we wrote with pencils and paper, evidence of our emotion was right there on the page. In hastily scrawled letters or imprinted periods or dampened corners and ink that ran where it mingled with tears. The computer screen reveals none of that. It makes the words feel naked almost, unmoored from the tears through which they were written. I don’t mean to be all melodramatic but there must be space online, in our pinterested and instagrammed worlds that portray joyful perfection, for acknowledging brokenness, for honesty, for corporate sadness, for a modern-world way of honoring people we’ve loved.

Fumbling through that here.

No one ever told me grief was so physical. I feel it in my bones, they ache. I feel it in my muscles, they are sore, as though I’ve run a marathon. The few times I have tried to run, I struggle to see the ground through my tears and my legs feel weak, my pace slow but my body screaming that I’m trying as hard as I can. I’m dehydrated from crying, from forgetting to drink enough water. I’m hungry but can’t eat, nothing looks appetizing. I haven’t slept all the way through the night since the day my daughter’s friend fell.

What is it for anyway? Who cares if I’m in shape or strong or feel the wind in my face? The child of my friend is gone, my daughter’s friend is gone. My 5k pace is irrelevant, sleep a luxury repeatedly interrupted by damp cheeks and a runny nose. Grief forms in a lump in my throat and lodges there, moving in uninvited. It fades and comes back and it is hard to swallow food, to force sustenance past the sorrow.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” No one ever told me that, either. Fear of how to respond, fear of how things will change, fear of fragility, fear of how to respond to my daughter’s grief while facing my own.

Click here to read the rest Things No One Told Me about Grief

Pajamas in Public

Quick link: I’m the Mom in Pajamas at the Grocery Store

This one’s at Babble. Its about grief and being an expatriate and community. And pajamas.

Recently a school called out parents for wearing their pajamas to drop their kids off at school. It seemed ridiculous to me, especially considering that I had this essay coming out this week about when I wore pajamas in public.

Sometimes, there are really good reasons, like stress, exhaustion, grief… Can’t we just give each other a break?

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…Forget about perfume — these days, I can barely remember to put on deodorant. I don’t think I have forgotten to brush my teeth in years, and yet, last month I went several nights without brushing or flossing. (I know, I know; disgusting. But at least those are privately disgusting.)

Turns out though, stress and exhaustion and grief become public when I either forget to change out of my pajamas to go to the store or I simply can’t summon the energy to change. And so, if you came to the grocery store in Djibouti, I’ll be the mom in the pink and black faded flannel pants and the ratty black t-shirt, unwashed hair in a messy ponytail. I’ll be the panicked mom digging through my purse and realizing that I forgot my shopping list, or I’ll be the mom at the cash register in tears, realizing I also forgot my wallet.

Click here to read the rest: I’m the Mom in Pajamas at the Grocery Store

*image via Flickr

Help! I Am a Mum

Yesterday was the book release date for Funmi Onamusi’s compilation entitled Help! I Am a Mum.

And even though I’m a mom (being American and all) I am happy to say I contributed to this book.

A few months ago Funmi contacted me and asked if I would be willing to participate in the unique project. She explained the vision and the steps and I was ready.

The book isn’t a straight forward anthology of essays by women. It is topical, with women from all ages, stages of parenting, and global locations weighing in on a variety of topics and addressing questions moms all over the world wrestle with.

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How do we stay healthy in our relationship with our husbands in the ‘little kid’ years?

How do we help our kids know God, truly know Him, rather than simply following the habits set by us parents?

What about discipline? Diversity? Personal career choices?

Here is the blurb from the publisher’s website:

Mummy!” Does that title screamed several octaves higher remind of you yet another demand that this role requires of you? Whether you are a newbie mum wondering how you are supposed to have all the answers or an experienced general who is trying to find your identity now the kids are getting older, where do you go for help in finding sufficiency in your life as a mum? Help I Am a Mum is a divinely inspired book for our times. It was written by a mum, for mums, polling real life questions from other mums from a number of countries around the world and tackled by a panel of Christian mums with various life experiences. The book is divided into segments so that you can quickly reference an area you need help in. Help! I Am a Mum will encourage you as you see how God can add grace, strength, mercy, and peace to your own journey of motherhood.

I confess that I haven’t seen the finished product yet, yesterday was the release day and my copy is in the mail, no quickie post over here in Djibouti, but for moms who are seeking the comfort and perspective of knowing they aren’t alone in the joys and struggles of parenting, check out Help! I Am a Mum.

You can purchase your copy here

or through Amazon here Help! I Am A Mum

This Is My Body. Thou Shalt Not Break It.

Last week I wrote about making assumptions based on physical appearances and first impressions and cultural prejudice.

On Thursday last week I was called a whore and prostitute approximately twenty-five times. In one day, two separate situations. This week, another sexual comment from a 55-year old (or older) man. Also this week, groups of construction workers telling me to quit running, pretending to chase me (and then shouting that they are winning as they sprint, even though they tire in about fifteen seconds and I zip right on past), and shouting and/or stomping right next to me when I walk by (they do this hoping to get a startled response they can laugh at).

I’m also reading Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant Men Explain Things To Me and finished a chapter about violence against women. So it all came together for me this week.

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This is one thing that I continue to struggle with in Djibouti. I know the people who call me names and in other ways harass me think I don’t understand it. I know specifically that several of the boys who called me a whore have been abandoned by their parents or have been orphaned and raised on the streets. I know this because I was at the homeless service center where kids can get medical care and other helps.

As I walked up to the front door, which was crowded with young boys, a few of them thrust their hands out to me, big ‘friendly’ smiles on their faces, and said, “Dilo! Bonjour! Bonjour, dilo.” Over and over. Dilo: Somali for prostitute. Bonjour: French for hello. They wanted me to respond by shaking their hands and saying bonjour, essentially accepting their prostitute label.

Instead, I said in Somali, without greeting or shaking anyone’s hand but without raising my voice or losing my temper (which has been known to happen in these cases), “Shame on you. Open the door, I’m here to see the doctor.”

Later in the day my daughter and I were riding our bikes around the corner to a birthday party and we biked past a group of, again, young boys. These boys shouted, in Somali, “Give us your bike, whore!” I ignored them.

Honestly? Sometimes I wish I didn’t speak Somali. Then I wouldn’t understand when people are talking about my ass or my breasts or my skin color or my religion or my underwear or my relationship with men…

I haven’t had any physical altercations this year, not like a few years ago. Though I have had girls threaten to punch me while I walk down the street with my daughter to tennis. I’ve had to almost physically remove kids who were sitting on the hood of our car and refused to get down until I threatened to go get the police. Still, I (and my kids) haven’t been pinched, stoned, threatened, or shoved this year. So, there’s that.

I suspect that the people who do these things just don’t know any better. I’m trying to have an attitude like Brené Brown advocates in Rising Strong, that they are ‘doing the best that they can.’

Still, I get angry. I wonder where the parents or teachers or mentors are. I worry that others have it worse than I do, that others are treated worse and more aggressively.

I know there are excellent parents and teachers and mentors here because often a bystander or even a member of the group shaming me, stands up for me and tells the others to knock it off. There are also so many people who shout encouragements when I run or tell me that they wish they were runners too. I am so thankful for the people who speak dignifying and grace-filled words over me. So there’s that, too.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m writing about this. Maybe I just want to share a piece of the darker side of being an expatriate woman. Maybe I need to get it off my chest, as though airing the humiliation and anger publicly will somehow make it easier to bear. Maybe I hope that people who shame others will read it and realize how hurtful it is to call people names, how wrong their assumptions are, and stop. Maybe I hope that others, especially other women, who have been sexually shamed and insulted, will feel less alone. Maybe I hope to feel that myself. Maybe I want the chance to write, out loud in public, to my own body.

You are my body. This is all I’ve got. This color, this shape, this height. These are my muscles, they are strong and they enable to walk down the street or run or bike. Underneath these clothes, these are my stretch marks and scars and cellulite patterns. This is my voice and the way I laugh. When I walk, this is the way my butt swings, this is the rhythm of my hips and the sway of my shoulders.

Sometimes when people call me a whore because of the color of my skin, I’m tempted to round my shoulders over, to curve my back, to turn in on myself. I become so conscious of the way my hips move that I trip over the stones in the dirt road. I’m so aware of the teensiest bit of bouncing in my breasts (even though I buy the tightest sports bras possible, so tight I can barely get them on, just to plaster everything down so I don’t get comments) that I feel my face burn red, as though there were something to be ashamed of in the jiggle.

There isn’t something to be ashamed of here.

This is my body. It’s all I have to walk around this world in. It is hard enough to escape the shame and guilt of all the ways I am weak and fail my friends, my family, my work. I can not let people add to that shame by allowing them to put it on my physical body, too.

Please don’t.

This body is a temple. It is a holy place where the essence of ‘me’ dwells. Don’t desecrate it. I know the people who insult me aren’t reading this. So what I’m really saying is to myself. Don’t let them desecrate it. They won’t stop saying these things, there will always be the jerk who needs to elevate him or herself by shaming others. Don’t walk in that shame.

Walk in the glory that is this body, this temple. Own it. Care for it. Use it. Wear it with confidence even in public. There is no shame here.

Here are some other posts I’ve written about sexual harassment:

The Story Women Need to Tell

Talking to Third Culture Kids about Sexual Harassment (published on Babble)

Maybe We All Need to Be Heckled

What Do You Call a Person Who Doesn’t Fit Neat Categories?

I stopped at a red light and kids swarmed my car. It is the cool season in Djibouti so my window was down and the kids thrust their hands through the window and asked for water. Several of them stood on any ledge they could find on the car.

They were speaking broken, thickly accented French.

“I don’t have any water,” I said, in Somali. Then I started asking them their names.

The kids started laughing. “You’re speaking Somali!” a couple shouted.

“Are you Somali?” one little girl asked.

“No,” I said.

“But you’re speaking Somali, so you must be.” She asked me again,” Are you Somali?”

“Yes,” I said and laughed.

“But you aren’t black,” she said. “You’re red.”

An argument ensued among the kids. Some argued that I was Somali, others that I was Chinese, and others just didn’t know what I could possibly be. Finally, they came to a group conclusion.

“You’re galo,” the girl said. Gal is the Somali word for ‘infidel’ and it can also be used to identify anyone who is not Somali.

“I’m not galo,” I said. “I have a religion and I fear God.”

Now they were stumped.

“What do we call a red person (white – another kid shouted from the other side of the street) who fears God?” the girl asked.

At that point the light turned green and all the cars behind me started honking so I had to drive on, leaving them to ponder this conundrum.

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What do you call a person who doesn’t fit into the categories you have known all your life and constructed in order to cram people inside them?

I’m more peachy with brown moles and some freckles than red or white. I’m not Somali. I’m not Chinese. I’m not an infidel. I’m not Muslim but I cover my hair sometimes and I say “insha Allah” and “Alhumdillalah” and fast and pray. I’m not the kind of Christian I’ve heard people here describe – the kind who gets drunk on Easter and who thinks Santa Claus is Jesus.

I am American, that’s a label I can claim because of my birth certificate and passport. I’m also a mother, there are three clear evidences of this fact. I’m a wife, there is also legal evidence of this.

But you might not know these things about me the first time we meet. In order to find out about me, you would have to ask questions, be curious, initiate conversation. You would have to lay aside assumptions and engage. This goes the same for me and these kids.

When I see street kids spot my car and descend in swarms of outstretched hands, I could make lots of assumptions. I could lump them into that category I just wrote: street kids, with all the attending prejudices. Or I can ask them their names, tease them about their sticky faces, ask them where they keep their family goats, and generally get them laughing. In those brief moments before the light turns green, I can treat them like the individuals with names and unique personalities that they are.

They aren’t objects to label and slip into categories. And neither am I. So before making assumptions or jumping to conclusions, let’s talk.