On finding the self

A child is conceived and a dream is born. It isn’t fully fleshed out, but the seed is planted. Parents-to-be think about the parents the ways life will change, the parents they want to become and speculate on the life they may bring into the world. They may reject the responsibility and decide to defer the dream to a later date. This might be a decision that is reached individually, as a couple or a result of other external influences.

That dream doesn’t die. It may become a random day dream, a personal anniversary of a choice that could have had a different outcome or a commitment to be ready the next time. While it doesn’t come to fruition, it doesn’t disappear.

For those who press forward because of or despite circumstances that seem to foreshadow the work that is to come, that dream continues to grow. It grows from an idea to a being that impacts hunger, thirst, emotions and breast size. It is pictured on an ultrasound, responds to certain songs, foods and voices. It may change eating, drinking and fitness habits. It may cultivate support, indifference or a love beyond one that the parents have ever known, but the seed is planted and continues to grow no matter the soil.

Finally, the child is born. The dreams are stronger now, because the possibility has become a reality. Parents teach their children what to do and what not to do based on social propriety, their values and beliefs and their fears. Discipline is handed out or deferred due to the parent’s own past traumas and what they feel “is the right thing to do”. Parents begin to shape a path and continue to shape a path for the child, sometimes without realizing the path asks the child to conform to what they believe he or she should be rather than cultivating the child’s own beliefs, talents or truths. While it is not necessarily ill-intentioned, the harm can come from the child deciding -whether by choice or perceived lack thereof- that it is easier to strive to realize the dream that has been in motion since before they were born than to fight against it and risk disappointment, estrangement, or failure in chasing a dream of their own choosing. Besides, it is also true that while some parents can, will, and do finance the dreams they have for their children, that support can be absent in the face of perceived insolence or lack of gratitude.

As a result, some people reach adulthood without being able to share or be themselves fully or completely. They do what they are “supposed to do” instead of doing what they are called to do. They watch others live lives -whether they are what others would call successful or not- of their own choosing and marvel at the freedom to chose to love, live and be authentically. They write to-do lists they never plan to complete. They live one life in public and one life behind closed doors. They self-medicate through drugs and alcohol at happy hours, parties and home alone. They go through the motions, accomplish without any real fulfillment and check off boxes that don’t spark joie de vivre but may inspire public or private conversations about how well they are doing when wellness is not an adjective they would pick to describe their state of being.

Then it happens. Maybe it is a conversation they have or are party to. Maybe it is seeing a crystal. Maybe it is losing a job.Maybe it being sick and tired of being sick and tired. The world shifts to allow the person an opportunity to start to LIVE, on his or her own terms, and they are both ready and willing to take it. Maybe it starts as a haircut, a career change or meeting a person whose interactions make them feel like a self they have never known and would like to get to know. The fear of not missing out on getting to know this version of self outweighs the fear of life-disruption and adolescence begins anew as they explore this feeling.

On the other side is the authentic self.

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The art of foreplay

So, let’s talk about foreplay.

 

If we are related, you should consider stopping here.

 

To me, foreplay is one of the most awesome forms of intimacy. Foreplay isn’t just the kisses to the neck, ear or thigh that come before the “it and the thing.” Foreplay is what helps me decide that you can trace my body with your tongue. It is also lets me know if you will be selfish, attentive, timid, confident or if you will worship my body like the temple it is.

 

I’m about to hip you to some game.

 

Foreplay starts at hello. It is the spark I feel when we make eye contact for the same time. Or when you hold my waist as we dance. Or when you open a door for me as I pass. Foreplay is the way you acknowledge your attraction to me. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you say as long as your eyes tell me you mean it. You might get extra points for an accent. Foreplay is how you let me know you want to get to know me. Did you ask me to put your number in my phone and call you? Did you trade instagram names with me? Did you give me a business card? Did you invite me to get to know you better over coffee or a meal? Did we have an easy back and forth flirtation?

 

 

Did you text me or call me to follow up? Did you ask me questions trying to find out who I am or were you more focused on what I do? Did you make overt sexual advances? Did we talk on the phone like teenagers and fall asleep on each other or was our conversation just long enough for us to confirm when/where we would meet for our next interaction? Did we talk about what we like in a potential partner? Did you talk bad about relationships and the people you dated in the past? Does the tone of our conversation suggest you feel that you are the prize?

 

When we meet up for our first date, did you pick something that shows me who you are and what you like or did you show me that you listened when I shared my love for cars, delicious food, video games, anime, seafood or anything else I sounded really excited about? Were you on time? Did you pull out my chair? Did you acknowledge the effort I put into looking nice for you? Did you look at your phone the whole time or were you present in the moment with me? Did you look in my eyes when you spoke to me? Were you rude to the wait staff? Did you tip? When we get ready to leave is our farewell akward? Do we have a physical chemistry that invites us to hug or kiss before we part ways?

 

Did you check to make sure I got home safe? Are you consistent in your interactions with me?

 

While doing some of these things are a sure turnoff, some of them are undeniable turn ons. Sometimes none of these things matter –even if they are warning signs about the kind of lover you will be- because our coitus isn’t about you. I might choose you for any number of reasons, but your foreplay doesn’t lie.

 

Random Musings- The lost files OR What I learned about love

I have an amazing father. I have written about him on this blog. I thank God for him every time I think about it.

I also have a biological father.

The man I call my father has been in my life since before I can remember. He has coached me through my worst moments and cheered me on through my best. He helped to teach me the meaning of family, the meaning of loyalty, and the meaning of personal integrity/responsibility.  He told me he would get up on the down stroke for me and has NEVER given me a reason not to think he wouldn’t. When I was going to do a semester abroad, he forced me to reconsider my chosen country because ” I can’t come get you like that dude in Taken”. He has visited me almost everywhere I have lived except Mexico, North Carolina, and California (which he has a real fear about).

My biological father did none of that. The only  childhood memories I have of him are:

  1. going to visit him and my step-mother at the time and telling my step-sister I wanted to go home ( I was 6)
  2. my mother cussing him out after he hurt my feelings at my sister’s 6th grade graduation (I don’t even remember how he did anymore, and I didn’t remember this until I was reminded)
  3. him writing me this letter about his life (I remember it being the worst this I ever read, but he did send me a picture)
  4. him turning down my invitation to my high school graduation
  5. him telling me he paid child support and so he was a father to me….the number he owes could buy me an amazing car
  6. him calling me on my 18th birthday…on a private number that i had no idea how he got, and being surprised that he knew when my birthday was.

My mother and father did not speak ill of my biological father. While my mother did tell me about the man she knew him to be, she also encouraged me to build my own relationship and to find out for myself. My father did the same. Because of their encouragement, because of my sister’s encouragement and because I was never entirely sure that I wasn’t missing something  about myself by not knowing him I tried to. I never agreed to go to visit him because I had to fly and I needed to be in control of when I could leave.

Fast forward 15 years. I take a job in the Northern most city in California, and suddenly the distance to his home is drivable. A day trip. On a random Wednesday in July, driving back to the city from Oregon, I call his phone and commit myself to a date. I plan a trip to visit from Thursday- Sunday.

Immediately after I do so, I call my father. “Dad, I told B*** V***** I’m going to come up there to see him”.  My father doesn’t miss a beat. “How do you feel about it?”. I stop to ask myself  how I really feel about it for the first time. “Excited…and scared. I’ll let you know how it goes”. We continue our conversation for a bit longer before we get off the phone. I consciously decide not to tell my mother until after my trip because it is near her birthday and I want her to enjoy herself, because she already has plans.  I know she will worry.

Soon enough the day for the trip comes. I am on the phone talking to my best friend about nothing and everything and then I pull up outside the house. Our conversation has turned to the one thing we have avoided talking about the whole time. She says ” You know, I hope that no matter what I do, my son will love me and know I did my best”.  Before I know it I am crying. I say “I can still go home, I don’t have to do this” and then he comes out onto the porch and I feel like he looks straight into my car and the walks back in the house. I wipe my face. I decide I have come to far to turn back. I get out of my car and walk to the door.

I knock on the door and he comes back out. I find myself staring into a face I don’t remember, with a nose that looks like mine. My mother has always told me that I look like him, and now I understand why she would say that (even though only our noses are different). I see my cheek bones, my eye lashes, my nose.  I see why my smile takes up 3/4 of my face. I see that I am the perfect combination of my biological parents. All of a sudden, I am tired.

We walk in the house and I take a cursory glance, but I am really too nervous to process anything. I am holding my bags as if they would protect me if the need should arise, but he asks me to put them down in the room he has told me his mine o for the weekend and I do. I hear him call a cousin to tell him I am there and make plans for us to meet. He is sitting a the table.  I sit on the couch. “I’m happy to see you,” he says. I smile, unable to say the same. I’m not exactly happy, and I’m not going to lie. The TV is on breaking the silence. I have never been so excited to guess along with the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

Before  I know it, we are his car going to meet a cousin I have only seen in pictures. I was months old. We pull up and I am re-energized. Wired. We walk in the house, and he introduces me to my cousin and disappears.  I stand by the door, at the counter. A woman and a teenager I have never seen before are sitting at the table. Their names don’t quite register after the introduction, but the woman’s question’s do. “So when is the last time you saw your dad?” My mind flies to Cleveland, Ohio where my father is.  I think of my most recent trip home and a million memories flash before my eyes, but I know that is not who she is asking me about. I answer, “When I was six?”. My cousin jumps in quickly, “Oh no, your dad saw you at your sister’s 6th grade graduation”. All of a sudden, memories of come flooding back to me. I remember feeling nervous about accepting her invitation. I remember wondering why he could come back to see her when he couldn’t seem to get right when I asked. I remember picking my dress with care. I remember walking into the school and feeling the same shock I felt that day. I say, “sometimes people don’t remember things that are insignificant.” As an I aside I add, “sometimes, people block out painful memories”.  I am never so happy to have dinner served so I don’t have to talk about this anymore. I stand and eat my food, despite invitations to the table. I am on guard and even though I didn’t drive, I am gone if this shit gets stupid.

Dinner is finished and I have a chance to talk to my cousin. I ask questions, careful to steer the conversation to the family history I do not know to make sure I am not put on guard the same way I was before.  Before I know it, it is well after 2 am. It is time to go, and we make plans to get together the next day. I call my father to tell him I made it safety and that I will call him tomorrow.  He’s only half awake, but he says okay.

When I get in bed, I am not sleepy. I am prayful. I ask God to make it clear to me why I agreed to come here. I put on a sleep meditation and morning comes before I know it. The sun wakes me. It is still to early for me to be up and about, but I feel the need to call my brother. It is 8 am EST and he answers. He had to take my mother to the airport and is on his way home. I tell him where I am. A moment passes. He says, ” I hope that works out for you” and I hear the promise of hell to pay if it doesn’t.

I have a moment to myself to really look at the house. I see the picture from the day my cousin reminded me of on a shelf, more evidence that it happened. My face is smiling back at me and I remember being happy to celebrate my sister’s special day. I go back to lay down. I don’t fall back asleep. I go to workout to work off the excess energy.

I am building my confidence to ask the questions that really brought me here, questions that I am sure he will answer to my face.

We are driving. We have been talking about family dynamics I have never known and I feel like the moment is better than any other.  I ask, “Why didn’t you come to the things I invited you to?”.  He answers, ” Because your mother wouldn’t let me stay at your house. I would have slept on the floor if I had to.” I don’t know whether to be disappointed, angry, or surprised at his stupidity. I think of the many times my mother, my father and brothers have shown me that they would fight to protect my feelings  when I was both bothered and unbothered and wonder why this man who has been the cause of so many hurts would throw himself in the lion’s den. I ask, “so, you are pretty much all or nothing, huh?” He thinks about it and replies, “Yeah”. I speak before I can stop myself , “That’s pretty stupid”.  What he says next doesn’t really matter, but he does apologize for being absent.

The weekend continues, and I call my father daily and thank him for being present in my life. During my visit, I wonder why my biological father can’t talk to me unless I initiate the conversation.  After 2 more sleepless nights, I get ready to get back on the road back to the life I knew.  When I leave, he hugs me.  He says, ” I don’t know what you have done with your life, but you seem happy. Keep it up”.  I thank him for trying on, because I know this was hard for both of us.

My mother’s birthday has passed, and I finally called her to tell her what I’ve done. I tell her why I didn’t tell her. I answer her barrage of questions and tell her that I couldn’t understand how she loved me until I took this trip, met this man, heard about his past and learned what it cost her to let me make my own decision about him. She talks to me for 2 hour before she decides I am really okay, because she is ready to correct his ass if I am not.

I am grateful for the space my family held for me until I was ready. I didn’t know I was whole until I went to make sure nothing was missing.   I didn’t know until I saw what people sacrificed to let me live out loud. I know their love is deep and strong. I know that my partner has to give me this…or better.

The thin line between Over and Underloving

I don’t know exactly when I put it on, but I took it off this week. I unfastened the strings as my neck and let my cape go wherever the wind carried it.

I feel lighter than I knew I could feel.

I can’t say that I think it is because of where I came from, but maybe more who I decided I wanted to be. I have seen and heard various iteration of the “crab in a bucket” idea. I didn’t want to be held back, I didn’t want to let people get pulled back in either. “Each one, teach one”, “charity starts at home” and other well meaning adages that underline our responsibility toward our race, or culture, ourselves, our family. For me, it  was always family first, because that is what we were taught.

Love meant picking up the slack, helping to make a way out of what appeared to be no way. Love meant slim pickings this month so someone else could live a little better. Love meant looking at money spend as an investment instead of as money squandered. I would sit and look at my budgets – budgets I had prepared for myself and budgets others had prepared for me- and could never quite figure out where the money went.

I wanted to be a cheerful giver. I gave and considered never considered the money a loan. I gave when I had to borrow for one bill, I gave when it hurt to “Thank you” and “I’ll pay you back”. I gave out of obligation, because no one else had it. I gave out of love, because love wanted me to pad the struggle however I could.  What I realized and wouldn’t admit to myself with the giving is that there was a pattern. That somehow, the gift had become an expectation; one I had for myself and one that was held for me.

I loosed that thang this week. I realized that love isn’t always padding the landing. Love can be letting the hard fall come, so that the loved one can have an opportunity to learn from the pain. Love is saying no when it hurts. Love is loving yourself first. Love is deciding to be your own damn hero instead of being Captain Save-A. Love is setting boundaries and meaning it. Love is knowing that a crisis may come, and that I don’t have to be part of the solution if it doesn’t make sense to. Love is letting people learn they are their own first line of defense. Love is being confident that once you teach a man how you fish he will figure out how to make his own catch, that he will tweak what you taught him to make it work for him. Love is knowing that what is meant to fly will fly.

Family Ties

My family means the world to me.

It and of itself, I don’t think that this statement is remarkable; because of the family I have, I think it is extraordinary.

I will spare sordid details, but suffice to say, my family has it’s dysfunctions just like any other family. Tales of colorism, step and half siblings, maybe babies, and questionable moral choices are present, but are certainly not what I would consider central. Instead, the fact that I was brought up to bring that my family is my safe haven in bad times -the people who have my back no matter what- are the first things that come to mind. Family is love in my book.

In a training today,  I asked a question about broaching difficult subject matter with family, and why a person might chose to remain silent instead of making waves.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about why that might be difficult…but I have a blog…so, I’ll unpack it here.

In reflecting on my family stories I realize another reason I have issue with conflict; conflict meant that people would stop talking to each other. I realize I have at least 5 cousins that I know little about after a falling out between our parents. Despite the fact that we were close -or that I felt close to them- our parents falling out meant we didn’t get to talk, that keeping in touch was no longer an option. That says nothing about a biological  parent whose family I have literally walked past in the street and not known. It says nothing about fallings out that predated me but were the lens through which other family members judged me and my attempts at closeness.

I have never been to a family reunion. Many of the elders in my family that could inspire us to get together and “play nice” have passed. I miss the camaraderie, I miss being able to sit at their feet and hear the stories of how my family came to be where they were, why despite our midwestern birth we had southern ways. I think of the number of family members that have left this earthly plane in the past year who- when I am caught up on their lives stories- I am surprised at how much I don’t know. I think of the trust, love and respect that I have hard earned from some family members that I could stand to lose. I think of going back to feeling like an island, of feeling like woman without her-story, and not being able to pass that richness to my children. As much as they mean to me, I’m not sure it’s a gamble I am willing to make. I’d rather take them as I come and explain to my children that loving  family  doesn’t mean I always agree with them, but I that I give them the space to be who they are. I’d rather explain to my children that homogeny doesn’t prepare them for the world they might live in, though working toward tolerance also means understanding that everyone doesn’t agree. I’d rather them learn to find similarity and rhythm in a cacophony of beliefs. I’d rather them them decide for themselves the value of being right and being effective. I would rather them make a choice on how to live based on the weight of the options presented. I would rather love my family for better and for worse.

 

On gratitude

I have to be coming into one of the most interesting seasons I have known in my life.

When I was younger, I was always afraid of accepting the kindness of others. Even my family. I had been burned by accepting gifts that I didn’t know came with conditions. Conditions that included them being brought up in heated moments. It made me leery of accepting anything that anyone offered me…except food.

My parents made us do chores in my house. We all had daily chores, and deep cleaning that meant washing down all of the baseboards of the house in the spring and right before we did our Christmas decorations. My mother always said “if something happens to us and you have to go live with someone else, I want you to be able to pull your own weight. I don’t want them to think you are burden”. I took that lesson to heart.

That lesson has probably played out in countless different ways in my life. I distinctly remember missing out on an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii that I said no to because I didn’t know how my parents would afford it and I was already living most weekends in the house of the family that offered it. I can think of the times that it played out in my romantic life, too, the times I wasn’t willing to admit I cared about a man for fear he might be too good to be true, the times I chose silence over making my needs known, the times I accepted less than what I knew I deserved to have a piece of something.

Sitting here writing this, I feel amazing blessed to know that this tide has turned. In this season, I went on a trip with 10 dollars to my name and trusted that I would be provided for. I told a man that what he was willing to give was probably enough for someone…but that that someone wasn’t me. I told somebody to “get the fuck out my car” after having tried nicely to say I was finished with the conversation and that I was not going to be bullied or cowed into continuing it. And I didn’t For the people who know me, that may or may not be surprising but that was a HUGE step for me. The biggest things though, what I would call the crown in my cap, is that I have stepped into a season of fearlessly asking for help.

I used to think it was pride that would stop me from asking for help. I know now that it was because I was afraid of burdening someone with my problems. I never wanted to take the food out of someone else’s house to put it into mine; not the food, not the gas, and damn sure not the rent. I am so grateful for having turned the corner, and so grateful for the beauty that is now showing up in my life.

As my dog is laying here curled up in the crook of my knee, I had to come back and edit this post. This dog came into my life when I was wondering about my ability to be selfless and showed me that I have the capacity in spades. He misses me when I’m gone. He had his head in my lap for most of the time I was typing this post. He randomly curls up in my lap, gives me a hug, steals a kiss, lays down ON me while I’m trying to do yoga or pushups or lays down with me any time I am on the floor. I have no idea what I did to deserve this kind of love…but I receive.

I changed my mind, and my life is changing. I can’t wait to see what is up the pike.