Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a typical grown-up. I’m lucky enough to be married to an awesome audio engineer and he recorded me reading, Art Class, the poem I wrote to my son explaining this.
Art Class is about the time I took Kai to a toddler art class and quickly realized that I wasn’t anything like the other moms there. The thing is, I tend to feel like a little girl wearing a grown-up suit most of the time. Somehow, without being fully aware of it, I just slipped into adulthood. I never felt a defining moment — there was never a point at which I could say, “Ah ha! Now, I am a grown-up.”
I have often considered the idea that my maturation has been the result of simple time and inevitability with little conscious effort on my part. For the most part, I’m okay with this. However, there are times — mostly now as a parent — when I am forced to interact with groups of people who probably don’t want to talk about Doctor Who or my robot collection… the ones who are really, really okay with being very grown-up and I realize how differently we see the world.
For me, parenthood has been the ultimate proving ground. It’s forced me to interact outside of my comfort zone and made me choose whether to change or to ultimately accept myself for who I am.
Last weekend I was sitting in the drive thru of a fast food restaurant (attempting to salvage our weekend after our son hated the South American food we had for lunch) when across the parking lot I noticed a hurt pigeon. One of its wings was stretched out at a weird angle like it was broken and it seemed to be in distress. Before I knew what was happening, I had my hand on my seat belt and was screaming to my husband, “Do I need to go help that bird?!”
I should probably go ahead and mention at this point that I have zero experience with birds – wounded or otherwise. I have never owned a bird, I have never known a friend with a bird, I have rarely even noticed birds on an individual basis, my brain usually just sees “birds” as a collective. I could be in a room full of birds and probably not really notice any of them individually unless they were specifically pointed out to me. Also, contrary to my brain’s promptings at that moment, I do not have a degree in veterinary medicine. I am an English and Communications major. If something needs to be talked at or written about, I’m your girl, but damaged birds are out of my depth.
Fortunately, the bird got up and flew away before I was able to jump out the car and run across the parking lot to… what? What exactly was my plan? Was I going to run over there and just pick up that parking lot bird? Was I going to bring it back to my car? Where was I going to take it? How *exactly* was I going to help it?
I can’t answer any of those questions. I don’t know what was going on, but I do know that if I attempted to pick up a wild pigeon I ran a pretty good chance of getting my face pecked off and/or catching some weird bird disease.
So, while I’m glad that the bird was okay and my face is intact, I almost *almost* wish that the bird hadn’t gotten up and that I had run over there so that I could know what my plan was. Clearly, some part of my brain had a plan, right? I love animals and if I were to encounter an injured one, I would definitely make sure it received help, but what on earth did I think I was personally going to do for that pigeon?
All I do know is that when the bird flew away seemingly unharmed, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I turned to my husband to tell him the good news about the pigeon and he was staring at me like I was insane.
“What did you think you were going to go do?” he asked me.
“I… I honestly don’t know.”
Please don’t let this be my future.
AND I STILL DON’T.
I’ve been thinking about the whole incident for days and I’m no closer to understanding what happened or why I felt so connected to that one random parking lot bird. I’m proud of the fact that I was concerned about the well-being of a living creature and that I modeled that concern in front of my son… but I’m a bit concerned about what’s going on upstairs. If I turn into a crazy bird lady, send help.
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, the skies were clear, there was a slight breeze, but the peacocks… the peacocks were angry that day, my friends…
A few weeks ago, my son and I picked up lunch at the grocery store and went to Mayfield Park for a picnic. It’s a popular Austin park known for its historic cottage and brilliant peacocks that wander the grounds. I’d never been, but this seemed like the perfect way to spend an afternoon with my son. Peacocks are awesome, right?
Wrong. I would soon learn that peacocks are scary and Mayfield Park is full of them.
Shortly after Kai and I sat down at a picnic table just outside the main grounds, two peacocks came walking across a low stone wall next to another family. I was mesmerized by how large and beautiful the birds were and ran over to take pictures, but the other family seemed unnerved, looking down and sitting in perfect silence. Apparently, this wasn’t their first peacock rodeo – they knew something I didn’t know yet — peacocks are super jerks.
Pretty on the outside, evil on the inside.
Now, if you’ve never seen a peacock up close, let me tell you about them. They’re beautiful birds. Their feathers are colored in iridescent jewel tones that sparkle in the shadows and glimmer in the sunlight. They sport a crown of feathers on their heads, and the males have a brilliant train that trails behind them. They have a confident, regal walk… and a big case of bad attitude.
The larger of the two birds jumped up onto the rooftop of a small building and the other perched in the tree above the picnic tables, his magnificent tail hanging below him – as soon as this happened the other family grabbed their belongings and ran away. Okay, that’s weird, I thought, but whatever, I was happy enough to claim their table in the shade and spread out our lunch.
Another interesting fact about peacocks – they’re loud. Their call is not nearly as pretty as their feathers and can be unnerving. For example, as they call back and forth to each other you may suddenly realize that there are not just two peacocks, but that you are actually surrounded by peacocks. They’re quiet, and sneaky like really pretty velociraptors…You’ll look at your salad, get ready to take a bite, hear 5+ peacocks calling to each other all around you and realize that you are about to enact a much prettier version of a scene from Jurassic World. It doesn’t matter if your phone says it’s 2 pm, it’s about to be Peacock O’Clock.
It’s about to be Peacock O’Clock. Good thing I brought my crazy hands.
We started to eat our lunches, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I’ll admit that I was feeling pretty good about having picked the perfect park for our lunch and thinking about what an awesome mom I was, but I’ll warn you now — peacocks can sense pride. Less than 30 seconds later a large peacock jumped up behind me on the wall and another walked towards Kai on his side of the table.
Hey Kai, look that peacock is walking towards you, let me take a picture, this is so cool… wait he’s coming fast, nope, move. Move now, Kai! Seriously, don’t just sit there, get up, now!
Hey look, he’s coming towards us, how cool! I’m sure he won’t attack us in a few minutes.
At this point I drop my phone and jump across the picnic table to grab my 8 year old who was inches from having a peacock beak in his leg and wondering what the hell had caused that to happen. I scooped our lunch into a bag as we backed into the wall… where the other large peacock was eyeballing us menacingly. We were effectively trapped between a rock wall full of peacocks and a hard place (also full of peacocks). We moved further down the wall and waited hoping that they would forget about us and just relax. There was a low bench here so we slowly pulled out our food and started eating again. The peacock which had us cornered turned and started walking towards us again.
“I don’t get it. I’m eating salad. Are they attracted to my salad?”
Kai seemed to think this was my fault and screamed “Of course! They’re mad at you for eating nature! They think you hate nature!”
I don’t hate nature. And I tried to tell the advancing peacock that, but he wasn’t listening. Then, I thought, well maybe he likes salad… maybe he’s just trying to get a bite of my salad, and (I’m not proud of this, but I was panicking) I threw a baby spinach leaf at his head. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I think he was supposed to grab it out of the air with his beak and eat it like a Scooby snack… instead he dodged the spinach leaf and ran at us even faster.
Now, this may come as a surprise, but I don’t have a ton of experience with animals. The only thing I could think to do was to make myself look big. So I puffed myself up, balled up my fists, swung my arms out in front of me like a crazy person, looked that peacock right in its beady jerk eyes and said get back or I will punch you! And then Kai and I ran like crazy while it chased us towards the parking lot.
We were sweating and shaking, but relieved that the peacock stopped abruptly at the paved sidewalk. We made it. I was panting and trying to warn other people walking into the park to be careful which I’m sure they appreciated and didn’t think I was insane at all.
I was still confused by what had happened, so naturally, I went to Facebook for help. While a majority of the comments suggested that the peacocks were in love with me (my friends are jerks), several comments were about how my friends and family had also been attacked by peacocks at that very park. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this??
I have read tons of reviews for Mayfield Park and not once have I ever heard of anyone being attacked by peacocks. Yet, right here on my own Facebook page were comments by people I know and love all facing the same familiar shame – being chased out of a public park by really pretty birds. I can only assume that Mayfield Park is home to some sort of Peacock Fight Club, and we all know the first rule of Peacock Fight Club, right? (You DO NOT talk about Peacock Fight Club)
I learned some really important things during that lunch. For example, Peacocks are jerks and will attack you for no reason or if you are eating a salad. Throwing baby spinach is not an acceptable defense. And, most importantly, I am willing to punch a peacock if it hurts my child.
This is why being a parent is so amazing. Before I became a mother, I never had to think about what animals I would be willing to punch in self-defense. I love animals, and I would never condone hurting one, but I can tell you in all honesty, that as that peacock menacingly approached my child and refused to back away, I was willing to use Strunk and White to defend us. (Yes, I named my fists Strunk and White — I’m an English major.)
So, on the days when I feel like I’m overwhelmed, when I’m not doing enough or being enough as a parent, when I feel weak or tired, I can look back on the Great Peacock Attack of 2016 and know that I am enough. I can know that I am strong enough and smart enough to take care of my child in tense situations, and that I would do anything for my son — even if that thing is throwing my body in front of a group of charging peacocks.
When I was a kid, my favorite ride at Disney World was always 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I loved it. There was something wonderful about voyaging under the sea. Maybe it was the water, the colors, the fantastical ruins of Atlantis, or how my heart would race as the giant squid wrapped its tentacles around the Nautilus and all seemed lost before we wrestled free and triumphantly made our way back to the serene beauty of the tropical lagoon.
The roomier and more stylish Nautilus of my youth
As a parent, I wanted to share this adventure with my young son. As we prepared for our trip to Disneyland for his 5th birthday I was thrilled to discover that while 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride was gone, they had kept the subs for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Awesome. We watched videos of the ride on youtube and I waxed poetic about my childhood memories of a similar ride and told my son just how much fun it would be.
Once we were in the park, I couldn’t wait to get to that submarine ride. I skipped through the line and gleefully climbed aboard what seemed to be a much smaller version of the submarine of my youth. Hmm. It was then, about 5 seconds later, that my excitement quickly faded. As I climbed into the now tiny submarine and sat on the little stool by the minuscule window and the employee on the outside shut the door and locked us in the miniature submarine… that I suddenly realized that I no longer wanted to ride inside this teeny tiny little metal box that had no discernible opening from the inside.
I have always believed that life is all about learning and growing, seizing opportunities to learn more about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, who we really are. Well, this was one of those times. This was the moment that I realized quite clearly, that I am fucking claustrophobic.
Not wanting to immediately ruin this experience for my son, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I did all the normal stuff to calm myself: I told myself that Disney employees do this all day long, I reminded myself that there were no skeletons on the sub, so obviously people got off eventually, I noted that we weren’t actually 20,000 leagues under a sea, I listened to the happy voices of the children, I looked at the smile on my son’s face… Yeah, none of that crap worked.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a panic attack, much less one that you are trying really really hard not to have, but for me, I had a feeling of creeping coldness that started at my feet and was spreading upward. I was certain that if that cold feeling made it all the way up to my head, I was going to do or say something super embarrassing. I tried to take my mind off of it and I started thinking about all the jobs and adventures that I was no longer interested in attempting: Deep sea diving? Right out. Exploring the Mariana Trench? Hell no. Marine biologist? Nope.
I tried looking up where the “captain” was standing thinking that the employee surely had an escape hatch. That made it worse. He was in a sealed dome. I swallowed a scream.
I attempted to be poetic and thought how I was the personification of the nautilus and the actual nautilus that I was riding in was now my giant squid. I was gasping for breath trying to stay calm.
I started to wonder what would happen if just freaked the hell out. What If I started screaming and demanding to be let off? Did they have sub marshalls to tackle me? Surely, I could not be the only person to get claustrophobic in that itty bitty sub. Did they have some sort of crazy person freaking out back up plan? I was dangerously close to finding out.
I then started to wonder what would happen if I tried to pry open the lid and jumped out to swim to shore. I only stopped myself because I knew that the temporary thrill of being free would surely be replaced by the shame of being banned from Disneyland for life. I wasn’t sure I could afford the inevitable therapy bills for my son after that. Also, I really didn’t want my claim to fame to be “that crazy lady that scarred all those children” at Disneyland.
Leaving the cave and I was really ready to get out.
Soon we entered into the cave and things got more awesome. Because what could be better than being trapped in a tiny submarine and pretending to not have a panic attack so that you aren’t freaking out all the small children crammed next to you? Doing that in 30 seconds of absolute darkness. I was so stressed out that I wasn’t following the story. At one point, I heard my sweet little 4 year old son’s voice drift through the pitch black to ask me, “Mommy, are we in a shark?” To which I’m almost certain I said, “Yes,” which was an awful thing to say. Yes, my dear little child, we’ve been eaten by a shark, but isn’t this just sooooo fun?
Eventually we got out of the shark’s stomach or whatever was actually happening in the story and made our way back out to the sunny lagoon. I was done, really done, ready to get back to my life on land and leave my underwater adventures behind. And we were there, the home stretch, I was a few glorious minutes from getting out. I had made it. And then…
OF COURSE our submarine comes to a stop in a spot that I can tell is near, but not near enough to the spot we will exit. I am trembling from anxiety, but I know that if I can just hold on for one more minute, I’ll be okay… and that’s when Captain Nemo up in his little bubble dome announced that due to a boarding issue with the boat ahead of us, our ship which I have now dubbed the USS GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE, would be delayed from deboarding… but hey, we should just sit back and relax. Well, of course, I was on the inner row of the submarine staring right into a cement wall.
There I was, the most claustrophobic person in the sub, stuck staring into a wall. I was tempted to laugh at the situation, but my anxiety level was so high at that point, that I was certain it would come out as some sort of crazy hysterical cackle. For the next 15 agonizing minutes, I took deep breaths and continued to remind myself that I probably wouldn’t die there. Probably.
And while this ride was not the magical experience I hoped it would be, it was a valuable learning experience. I learned 3 important things:
I am seriously claustrophobic and I should probably see about getting that shit fixed.
You can never go home again: experiences from our childhood do not always translate well to our adult lives.
(The one I am actually proud of) I will do anything for my son. Even if that thing is swallowing a massive panic attack and not shoving small children out of my way in order to forcefully bust out of a submarine ride and swim to shore.
So, while I still have fond memories of my youthful voyages aboard the Nautilus, I have decided that, for now, my undersea adventure days are over and it’s probably best if leave the wonders of the Disney lagoon to braver souls than I.
Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?
The notes drift into the kitchen and I feel them in my chest, know them by heart. There’s a special joy in unexpectedly hearing a song you love right when you need to hear it; a little gift from the universe. Serendipity. He heard it too and runs to me; his 6 year old hands outstretched, inviting me to dance. I move the half cooked eggs off the burner. Breakfast can wait, my dance partner can’t.
This is our song. The one I have sung to him nearly every night of his life.
The first night.
I looked at the tiny person I had made and felt such overwhelming love, deep incomprehensible love… and fear. I had absolutely no idea what to do next, no clue how to actually be a parent. I looked him over, saw his soft vulnerability, his total dependence and realized that I’d never really thought past being pregnant… Oh crap.
Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
I took a breath, kissed him softly on the head and then suddenly I felt it rise up from somewhere deep inside my chest and head – an instinctual urge passed on in the genes of motherhood, a connection passed throughout the human race. I didn’t know how to be a parent, but I knew what to do right then: I sang to him.
I was surprised to hear the confidence in my voice, but it was there and I knew that meant I would be okay. His head on my heart, we melted into the rhythm of the song, connected as mother and child in those first new moments.
What’s so amazing, that keeps us stargazing, and what’do we think we might see?
I danced with my father to this song on the day I got married. It’s our song too, but I don’t know if he knows that. Growing up my father and I were far too much alike to really get along, and our relationship always felt stifled, uncomfortable. Neither of us was good at showing affection, it meant being too vulnerable or feeling dumb. Hugs were rare and often done quickly with one arm… But, we both loved the Muppets, so we had that. I remember hearing him singing this song while walking through the house. It was my favorite memory of him and I knew it was the only song we could dance to.
At my reception, as the first few notes made their way to the dance floor, my father, a shy man who hates to be the center of attention, who always shirks the public eye, grabbed me and spun me around the dance floor. We danced while he sang so loudly and enthusiastically that I couldn’t stop laughing and crying. It’s one of my favorite moments, seeing him so happy, and briefly feeling a comfortable connection between us.
All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic…
Now, I am dancing with my little boy. His small hand in mine, I spin him around the room, sing loudly while he laughs and holds me tight. I feel our connection… parent to child to parent to child. I never really understood the lyrics before I had him, but here it was, the rainbow connection. It is this song, this love, these moments that connect our generations, our hearts.
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name…
I’m still trying to feel like a parent so I listen for promptings from ancestral connections that taught the parents before me how to connect to their children, the ones that lie sleeping in my dna. I let those whispers guide me and I sing to him every night. Sometimes, he sings with me, other times he curls into my arm and falls asleep by the third stanza. I finish the song anyway and then lie next to him and listen to him breathing. I still don’t know exactly how to be a parent, I still don’t know if I’m doing it right, but I feel the strength of the bond growing between us, feel the connection that binds us to each other forever and fall asleep to the rhythm of his breath.
He wanted to ride the carousel at the mall. He’s five now, so I got on with him intending only to help him find an animal and climb up. The carousel was old and small, and wobbled as everyone climbed aboard. I put him on top of a brown horse with a flowing mane and wild eyes — It was a good fit.
He grabbed onto the pole with both hands, leaned into it, trembled a bit and looked at me with worried eyes as he surveyed how high he was and felt the wobbling of the ride before it had even begun. He looked up and noticed that the pole was at its low point and asked me if it would go even higher.
He is awake now, this little boy. Aware. He struggles with the lankiness of his legs, tries to understand his changing body as he faces growth spurt after growth spurt in an unrelenting parade. He is no longer an over confident toddler who charges into battle, he sees the world around him and senses danger, feels overwhelmed by noises, is trying to find his place.
I decide to stay on the ride and stand next to him. I put both my hands firmly about his waist, lean in to him and whisper, “It’s okay, I’ve got you and I won’t let you fall.” His eyes meet mine and I feel his body relax, feel his tension fade. “Look at how pretty the carousel is” I tell him, and he does. He loosens more, looks around and points out the paintings, the mirrors, the old round light bulbs.
Feeling him trust me so completely moves me. I feel it deeply in my chest and I lean in and kiss the back of his head so he won’t notice that I’m tearing up. Good tears, “happy tears” we call them, but I don’t want him to have to ask me about them. I want him to stay in this moment. The ride starts and he grabs a little tighter to the pole, but is still relaxed, my hands still around his waist. He knows I won’t let him fall.
That’s my mantra as his mother. It’s the banner I wave as I march into this battle every day. I have him, I’m here, and I won’t let him fall. Look around, enjoy the world and don’t be afraid, I have you.
I am someone who knows what it’s like to fall, to wobble and look around for a guiding hand. I am made of worry and fear. I am often overwhelmed, scared, and then shut down.
I remember when I first discovered I was pregnant. At first, I was elated… but not long after, I curled up on the edge of the bed and sobbed as I remembered the loneliness and fear of my childhood. I knew that I had the potential to damage another human being forever. I was already afraid I would fail this tiny person who was still in the process of being made.
In crowded places, I look down and follow my husband’s feet, I stay focused on just getting through – I often miss the beauty of the place, the time, the moment. But, at least I have those feet to follow. I was fortunate to find someone who would hold me and make me feel safe, but I missed so much before I found him.
But this isn’t how it will be for my son, not him; he will know that there are hands gently but firmly around his waist. He can climb onto the highest, craziest looking horse on the carousel and I will stand next to him, I will lean in as the ride starts, and I will let him look around and enjoy the moment – I have him and I will never let him fall.
This is my poem Parents, about the things every parent knows and every potential parent should be told.
Before I had a child, no one told me the real truth about parenting (spoiler: it’s awesome, but HARD). Actually, to be fair, they probably tried, but I just wasn’t paying attention: Yes, of course I’m listening: Labor sucks, they never sleep, they…. omg look how tiny these socks are! And there’s a tiny matching hat!!
Nature is a jerk. It has a way of camouflaging the truth. It made babies tiny and adorable because you cant really get mad at something that little and cute.
Now, if a middle aged man kept coming into your room and crying in your face while you were asleep, or kept accidentally pooping or peeing on you… I’m pretty certain you would give him a piece of your mind. But, when a tiny little person with cute little spider monkey hands screams you awake from a deep sleep, then proceeds to vomit and/or pee on you all while smiling with his little baby mouth and sparkly eyes… what do you do? You smile the hell back and thank the universe for this wonderful tiny person.
*shakes fist at nature*
Here’s the thing, you can not, no matter how hard you try, convince someone that once they have a kid they will never ever sleep again. It’s like trying to explain color to a blind person. There is no frame of reference. You can try, you could say: Okay think about the most tired you’ve ever been and now quadruple that and expect to feel it every second of every day, for.ev.er.
But, they just can’t comprehend it; it’s tacit knowledge, the kind that can only be learned via actual experience (and by then it’s too damn late and they are forced to have their own epiphany in the middle of the night while rocking what must be some sort of advanced human child who has evolved beyond the need for sleep).
Let’s be honest, it’s probably important that potential parents don’t understand how challenging parenting really is… otherwise, there would be zero chance of the human race continuing.
*continues to shake fist at nature and the manufacturers of tiny baby socks*
It was an amazing night full of wonderful stories by talented writers all celebrating motherhood. I was so honored to be a member of the cast this year.
Here is the video of me reading my essay, The Vagina-Mommy Incident. It’s about the time I thought it would be a good idea to tell Kai the proper name for our genitals and how great that went…
Thank you so much Ann Imig for creating this wonderful event! And, thank you to Wendi Aarons, Liz Mcguire, and Blythe Jewell for producing the Austin show so that I could get up and say the word vagina over and over in front of a room full of people. It is an experience I will always cherish.
I drew this comic last year and thought I would re-post it this week in celebration of the supreme court ruling on the defense of marriage act.
I spent a good portion of my week at the state capitol building protesting a bill that would restrict women’s freedoms in Texas. When you try and explain things like sb5 and doma to a 5 year old boy and he looks at you like you’re crazy… not because you are fighting them… but because they even exist in the first place, it really puts it into perspective. Let’s all stop trying to control each others bodies and hearts. No one loses when we let others pursue happiness.
And if I have to pull out my mom-voice, I will:If you don’t like what he’s doing, then don’t do it. No, I don’t care if it’s bothering you. Just go sit over there then. Why do you care what he’s doing? Is it hurting you? Are you losing anything? Did he make you do it, too? No? Okay, then, now you go do whatever makes you happy and he’s going to do what makes him happy, and I don’t want to have to come in here again.
Ava Love Hanna is a writer, storyteller, and performer living in Austin, Texas. She vividly remembers the night her husband asked her if she wanted to go to Istanbul, but she thought they should have a baby instead. She stands by her choice, but is now very tired and still hasn't had a decent cup of Turkish coffee. Read more about Ava >>