A Call to Womanhood: Handmade Love

My mom made me this dress for Alt Summit in January. Because that's how she do.

I’ve got a good friend in California. Her cakes are glorious, her home decor is on budget and beyond lovely, she usually smells like cookies and Chanel No 5. This is the kind of woman that Martha Stewart poaches ideas from, she’s that bleeping good at what she does. It’s wonderful. We talked a few days ago, going over the events of the past week. After a few laughs, she got quiet and then started talking again,

“Get this. It was Gloria’s preschool graduation and we were all supposed to make poster boards about our kids to hang up during the ceremony thing. Kind of like a retrospective on the year. Photos, their likes, dislikes, you know. Well, I got excited. Gloria loves it when I make her things, so I decided to put some time and thought into it. I figured it could hang in her room for the next little while. So, you know me, I used reclaimed wood instead of posterboard. Framed the photos with vintage lace and millinery flowers. Got some plastic toys of her favorite animals at the thrift shop, spray painted them and had them parading around the thing. It was like this really fun hot mess. Anyways, I showed up the night before graduation to set it up in the classroom. When I got there, one of the moms took one look at my little creation and turned to the women around her and said,

‘Well, I guess we know who wants to win mother of the year.’

It was so embarrassing. Gloria just likes when I make her things and I knew it would make her feel special. But I just ended up feeling like an idiot. I am so glad we are done with the moms at that school. But then, of course, there will be moms at the next school and I don’t really know if they’ll be any better.”

I said some encouraging words and then hung up to go make dinner. And I don’t know if it was just the heat in the kitchen, but the longer I stirred the soup the hotter I felt. I was literally sweating with anger. How dare that woman? Who was she to make ANYONE’S effort a thing of shame? Who made her Queen of the Mean Girl Squad?

I’m well acquainted with women like that. I spent my childhood watching them form circles outside of my mom’s reach. My mom was the mom with the over the top projects. The Native American dioramas with real tiny beef jerky drying in tiny villages. The bunny in the kindergarten with a hand painted face and hand sewn dress based on an American Girl doll pattern. I was the girl that showed up with magazine ready goody bags on my birthday.

And you know what? That is how my mom showed her love. She’s dealt with depression her whole life, she’s fought her past and won and sometimes lost, she’s been unsure and unheard. She’s always found herself through creating and she’s always shown others she knows and loves them through creation. But the women around her didn’t understand that. They thought her professional looking baked goods and high heels meant she was snubbing them.

A lovely example. I was five and we’d just moved into a new town. My mom showed up to a church social all done up, her hands full of a black bottom pie and glistening sugar cookies. She was smiling because she was so damn unsure. So worried no one would talk to her. She smiled like that all night. She had to because no one even said hi to her. A few months later, she’d made some friends. She told them about that night and one of them snorted in disgust.

“Oh, yeah. I wasn’t there. But you know, Marie was there. She came up to me after you and I started being friendly and asked if you were a bitch. I guess only a bitch shows up with lipstick and pie in her world.”

What. The. Hell.

Sisters. It’s enough. Listen. I’m not the one smiling with lipstick and a homemade pie. My kids will never have professionally staged diorama or historically accurate handmade costumes.  I don’t show my love that way. And I couldn’t if I tried. (Literally couldn’t. You should see me try to make ANYTHING. It is painful.) But I am comfortable setting my store bought rolls next to the heavenly creations of the woman down the street. Because we are all enough. We are all beloved and loving. We have got to stop judging others against our seething insecurity and smug sense of self-righteousness.

Don’t you see? We need one another. We need the masterpieces of each others lives. And mine doesn’t look like yours. Thank the heavens. How would we form a whole if we were all the same? How are we supposed to lift each other up to the heights when we are all so busy pushing down against what we perceive as the different, the intimidating, the not how I do it so it must be excessive, out of bounds, ridiculous, worthy of contempt? Why have we lost the ability to glory in one another? Did we ever have it? Let’s get it and hold onto that beautiful thing with clenched fists. Let's pass it on to our daughters. Let's stop all of this nonsense. Now.

There were days, months and even a few years when my mom could hardly make herself get out of bed to face the world. But still, even in those moments of darkness, she found a way to make that school project, sparkle that dress, cook that chef worthy birthday dinner. And as I held the thing she made, I knew - I KNOW - I was holding a product of her love for me.

And honestly, anyone who would intentionally make her, or any other woman, feel like less because of that can go straight to hell.

I mean that from the very bottom of my store bought cupcake heart.

Our Biggest (And Best) Fight

The husband and I when we were basically still fetuses.

Today is Valentine's Day. So in the spirit of love and kisses and all that smoochiness, I'm re-posting a little look into our biggest fight yet. (I say "yet" because we've still got miles to go in this marriage thing and there is plenty of time to have much bigger fights. ha! Happy Cupid's Day!)

When Riley and I got married we had known each other for ten years. We had been best friends for nine of them and I had loved him for six. I knew him. Knew the music he liked, the way he looked when he was worried, and that when he said something was “great” he meant that it was shoot-to-the-moon-and-back fantastic. I thought that living with him would be more of the same. Young, foolish Meg. Living with a man is a wonderful, infuriating kind of thing and it is never more of the same. His sports consumption alone was a shock. Any sport, all sports, all the time. I once walked in on him and his brother watching a re-run of a mens college volleyball game …. from 1998. We had only been married about a month when I became (and remain) very territorial about food. Riley eats quickly and in man size quantities. I eat slowly and…in man size quantities. Ordering pizza brings out the worst in me. I actually start throwing elbows to keep him away from my slices. Down, boy, this half is for me. And then finally the most startling revelation of all, this man, who I have known since he was a boy, and I speak different languages. At times we cannot understand each other.  And never had that been more obvious than it was after the birth of our first child.

Things changed after Margaret. I loved my husband and daughter, but couldn’t feel much else. The postpartum depression slinked about the house until well into Margaret’s first year and the shock of first time motherhood had leveled me. I couldn’t pick myself back up. When I finally stopped crying on bathroom floors, I decided that must mean I was happy. Riley and I didn’t fight, but we didn’t laugh, either. I collected recipes I never cooked and started books I never finished. I had lost myself and couldn’t be bothered to do a thing about it.

One night Riley came home from school, the baby was asleep and I was watching TV on the couch. My hair was pulled back, I was wearing three day old jeans and a t shirt I slept in the night before. I didn’t get up when he walked in.

Hey, Riley. I’ll make grilled cheese for dinner. Just give me a minute.

His eyes were grey and he looked so upset. I stood up.

If you don’t want grilled cheese I can make something else.

He shook his head once and the words came out,

Megan, I married a girl that wears lipstick. You’re so different now.

His sentence landed between us and for the first time in a long time I could feel something. I was angry. Angry at my wrinkled t-shirt and stale dreams. Angry about the dishes in the sink and that I hadn’t written in over a year. And I was furious with this man that could walk through the door and tell me I had changed, before he had even said hello.

He tried to explain himself, we fought and I wouldn’t listen. And then he left. Because I had told him to, had told him I couldn’t be in the same room as someone as selfish as him. Someone that couldn’t understand what I had been through, what had happened to me. Get out, I said. I don’t care where you go or how long you stay gone, I just can’t be here with you now. The car pulled out of the driveway and the house was quiet. I cried on our bed, my body stretched from one corner to the other.

How dare he? Who the hell did he think he was? He married a girl who wore lipstick? Was this the 1950′s? Didn’t he know that in the past year everything had changed? Life had become deeper, but it had also become harder. He left for school and work everyday. He walked in the world before returning home. I walked with a stroller before returning home for story time and diaper changes and a third change of clothes after the seventh time I had been spit up on. Yes, he had married a girl that wore lipstick and dresses and earrings. Someone that ran to the door when he came home. He married a girl that wanted to write and explore. Someone that could look at herself and be happy with who she saw. Didn’t he know I missed that? That I woke up at night panicked because another day had gone by and I had become an even vaguer version of myself? My life had grown and there was no room for who I used to be.

Didn’t he know what I had given up?

And that final question shocked the tears dry. Didn’t he know what I had given up? And I knew he did. He understood exactly what I had given up. He married a girl that thought she could do big things and wanted to live a hundred bright colors at a time. He married a girl that wore lipstick. And then Riley had seen me put away dreams and settle for what I thought life was supposed to be. My husband had watched the woman he loved pale and wilt.  And that man, who was driving in the dark somewhere, had come home to tell me I didn’t have to give anything up. In his own crazy, seriously-what-dialect-is-that language, he was trying to say, Please Megan, let me help you have it all. And I, acting on preconceived notions and frustrated with myself, had told him he was selfish, told him to leave, told him to be quiet.

He came home and I met him at the door. I was sorry and he was worried. We spent the night talking and then not talking (if you know what I mean). I was married to a man that could see me even when I couldn’t see myself. Early the next morning, I fell asleep to the sound of his breathing and didn’t wake up once. The next day I showered, made breakfast and kissed him before he left for work.

And then I put on some lipstick.