You Can Just Call Me Badass

Life has been busy lately between work, kids and home life, and freelance writing. It’s been so busy, in fact, that I haven’t sat down to write out of pleasure in a while. I’ve had some things on my mind lately, and I figured it was time to sit down and bang this post out.

Most people know how difficult it is dating as a single parent. In fact, if you don’t know this, I’m going to assume you live under a rock—a very large, dense rock at that. It’s HARD. To find someone, fall in love, blend families, and then live life in blissful peace is the equivalent of our modern-day fairytale because it’s pretty rare that that’s how it works out.

One reason dating is so difficult is because we live in a society that encourages fast paced living, self-indulgence, and frequent changes. You don’t like your car? Trade it in and get a new one! Tired of your job? Quit and find a different one! Aren’t happy in your relationship/marriage? Leave and find a new one! It’s no wonder that there are so many single parents and broken families out there. Dating is hard enough without adding in children’s laundry, daily football practice, piano lessons, dirty faces, and whines of “Moooommmmyy” or “Daaaaddddyy” in the middle of first and second dates and those first few sweet and yet awkward phone calls.

I personally have had a couple serious relationships after my marriage with my children’s father ended, and I’ve also had some time casually dating. Let me tell you what, that shit sucks! In fact, I was seeing someone last year and we were a few dates in. . .and then he witnessed my son have a rather large meltdown. Apparently that was enough for him because the next day, he texted me and said he needed to “take a step back.” So, back into the dating pool I went.

At this point, I was just over the whole thing. I wasn’t looking for casual sex, but that seemed to be all that was desired on all of the popular dating apps. I was a single mom of 3 teenagers, working 2 jobs to make ends meet, and was tired in every way possible. I wanted to find a partner, but it was not going to be through a dating website, and I’d lost pretty much all faith that it would happen at all. Then, a miracle happened. I met B.

We had a lot in common and much that was different too. While I had been in the dating game for a while (around 7 years since I had split with my ex-husband), he was brand new to dating. There were speed bumps and signs that pointed to maybe we shouldn’t get involved, but we were both enamored from the beginning, and so we pushed forward anyway and decided to become an official couple. In that decision, we have obviously become involved with each other’s children. Have I mentioned yet that dating as a single parent is hard…?

When you are in a brand new relationship, it’s easy to get lost in the stars in your eyes and the mush in your heart, but let’s face it, real life doesn’t stop just because you’re falling in love, and one giant reality is children.

When B and I met, my children were 15, 14, and almost 13. Teenagers are hard enough, but as I mentioned before, I have one kiddo that tends to make men turn tail and run. My son is an amazing person and full of charm and charisma normally, but in his hard moments, he is a handful to say the least. I love him and all of my children with all that I am, but I’m more than a mom. I am a woman and I have needs that go beyond my children. I need to be loved, to be desired, to be held, to be listened to, to be emotionally supported, and to be paid attention to from another adult. I never would want to put my children on the back burner, but I wanted a partner in my life too. But if I said that I wasn’t scared as hell about finding someone who fit everything I needed AND was able to handle my son (and children in general), I’d be lying my cute little skirt off. To make it even harder, I was downright terrified that I would fall in love, become vulnerable, let my children fall in love and become vulnerable, and then go through yet another heartache together again.

For B, he was pretty much brand new out of his failed marriage. He was still understandably hurting, tender, and guarded. His 2 children are much younger than mine and he feared not only being hurt in the same ways his ex had hurt him, but he naturally feared his children would get hurt too. They are so young that dating and then enduring another breakup would be so difficult for them to understand. He didn’t want to go through pain again, and he didn’t want his children to experience anymore pain. All of this is totally normal.

So there we were, 2 messes, 2 families, 2 grown up hearts, and 5 young hearts being meshed together. We were scared and yet we moved fairly fast in many ways because…well, LOVE! Before we knew it, we were neck-deep in this appointment, that school event, diapers and potty training, sibling rivalry, dishes, laundry, and grocery shopping together.

B has handled my son’s meltdowns with amazing patience. I have changed his son’s diapers and helped potty train. He has regularly picked up my children from their bus stop and listened with love and support to me complain about my children’s father not paying child support. I have cleaned up his children’s vomit from the stomach flu and listened to him with love and support complain about everything unfair at his job. He relates to my children in a way no one ever has and provides support to them. We plan birthdays and holidays together, we discuss parenting, discipline, and consequences together, and we work out our finances to maintain our home and provide for our children—all together. He lifts me up with his silliness and humor, and I keep him grounded with my seriousness, and we navigate life this way TOGETHER.

So, while I’ve rambled a long time about my own personal experience at dating as a single parent, I’m now getting to my real point. To my children, B is just B. He is Mama’s boyfriend. To B’s children, I am just Niki. I am Daddy’s girlfriend. Language evolves over time, and it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t raise families and cohabit in one household without being married. Because of this, there is no in between word for what B and I are to each other’s children. We are not step parents; we haven’t quite earned that title yet, but we are so much more than just our children’s parent’s significant other. I know there are so many people all over that also fall into this category. So I think there needs to be a word invented that covers those of us in the middle area. When you wipe butts, drive to appointments, cook, get in the middle of kids fighting, deal with bed wetting, buy clothing, and handle pretty much every aspect of parenting for your partner’s children, you are more than just a girl/boyfriend.

We were recently at B’s child’s birthday party and as I was telling people about all of the last minute errand running, putting together presents, and all of the other chaos that happens to all parents right before big events like this, I mentioned my desire for that word and to write this blog post about it.

B suddenly looked over and said, “There is a word already.” I was shocked and thought he knew something I didn’t.

“What is it then?” I questioned.

He then looked me in the eye and said, “Badass. You’re a badass, and so am I.”

And you know what? He’s totally right. It’s not quite the word I was looking for, but it couldn’t be more accurate. We. Are. Badasses.

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*Update*
Looking back, I can see where I was naive in this relationship, and it inevitably ended. While things didn’t work out for us, I am still so proud of and in love with this blog. Those partners of parents that are parenting in every way from disciplining, to cooking, to enduring 317 episodes in a row Spongebob, to kissing boo-boos, and running endless errands–those parents deserve a better title. Many people choose to forego marriage these days, and to say those partners are no more than “Mom’s boyfriend” or “Dad’s girlfriend” is something I think needs updated to catch up with society. While we still haven’t created one yet since the original posting of this blog two years ago, I stand by my original statement… You can just call each of us Badass.

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Her Rapist’s Eyes

***Trigger Warning, I’m going to discuss sensitive topics including rape in this post. If that makes you uncomfortable, please do not read further.****

I was conceived in a prison. That’s right, you read that correctly. My life came into existence because my mom was incarcerated (unjustly in my opinion, but that’s another story) and my biological father was a prison guard. In short, I was conceived in rape.

There was no clear, out of the blue moment I remember being told this, it’s just something I’ve known my entire life. In fact, I do remember a moment when I was 5 years old that I wanted my mother to clarify for me what the word “rape” meant. It was understandably a confusing concept to me as I barely understood where babies even came from—and the only reason I knew that was because I was a very bright child and demanded to know how my sister got into my mother’s belly when I was 4.

Rape. It’s an ugly word. It puts a bad taste in one’s mouth. If you’re like me and it’s something you’ve endured yourself, it might be a word that makes your breath quicken and your heart race. If you’re fortunate enough to never have been closely impacted by this act, even then, it’s likely a word that makes you squirm in your seat a little. It’s no easy topic, but it’s one I feel has to be talked about for many reasons. One big one is because people (yes, people, not just women, not just children, all people) that have been victimized deserve to know that it’s okay to talk about it. There is healing in talking and telling one’s story. If we as a society walk around whispering it like it’s a dirty word, it makes it that much harder for those that have suffered to find peace. It’s not the “f bomb,” it’s real life; it doesn’t need censored.

Now, my mother has never been fond of talking about that time in her life and I understand that, but there came a point for me where I really started to question what had gone on and I wanted answers. This became especially true when I got married and my mom gave me my birth certificate and for the first time, she explained to me that I could not lose it. She told me that when paternity was established in court, my birth certificate was revised to add “him” to the father line, but when that happened, they (whoever “they” are) also changed my last name on the birth certificate from the one I was born with to his last name. She told me that she never went through the court system to change it back; therefore, if I lost my original and had to purchase a new one, it would have his last name. This really sparked my curiosity.

After that point, I started really considering finding him, but I was afraid. What all did he know about me? Did he want to know me? Did he have other kids? Did they all hate me because of my existence disrupting their lives? Would I be shunned? Would he ever face me? What if………?

When I started wondering these things, it was before the Internet was as easy to use as it is now. I started actively looking and calling phone numbers in 2002. I knew only his first and last name and a couple of states that he’d lived in over the years. I had no success and so it was put on the back burner for a long time after that, and yet, it was always in my mind still. 13 years passed before I decided to try something to find him again. I paid a private investigation company to find him. I gave them the details I did have, gave my debit card info, and then waited. Within days I had an email. I was given what the company thought was his address, the names, addresses, and Facebook account links  of his 3 children, and the phone number for his youngest child.

I immediately checked out his kids’ Facebook profiles in search of at least a picture of him. I couldn’t see much info, and so I started thinking about how I should reach out. Should I Facebook message them? Should I send a letter? Should I call? What should I say? And it was in that panic of not being sure of what to do that I let that info just sit for almost a year. It was only just over a week ago that I finally decided to just send off a Facebook message and see what would happen. I said:

“Hello, XXXX,

I hope you see this message in your “other” box. I’ve had your Facebook contact info for almost a year but I’ve been afraid to reach out. I’m looking for information (especially medical history) and hopefully some pictures of XXXXXX. He is my biological father, making you my half sister. I’ve never had any real info and I’ve been nervous to ask. I don’t want you guys to shun me or shut me out. I’m extremely nervous sending this, but figure tomorrows are never promised and I might as well try. Please feel free to contact me here or email me at XXXXXXXXXXXXXX..

Thank you.”

I sent the message knowing it would be difficult for them to see it because of the settings with messages from strangers, so when I knew the messages hadn’t been read by the time I’d left work that day, I knew I was going to use the one phone number and just call. I stopped by the liquor store and decided it was totally appropriate to have a shot of whiskey before taking a deep breath and dialing.

Two rings, “Hello?” I felt sudden panic and was shocked at someone actually answering an unknown number (I didn’t even know other people still do that these days).

“Hi, um, I’m not sure how to really say this, I don’t know if you’re aware of me; I’m XXXXX’s daughter.”

There was some shock on the other line and lots of “Um’s” in the middle. His son explained to me that he was indeed in shock, but aware of me and asked to call me back. I totally understood his being blindsided by this and told him to go ahead and process and call me back later.

“But wait, can you tell me really quick, is he still alive?”

“No, I’m sorry, he passed away last year.”

I cried. I started crying before I even got off the phone. I hung up and cried hard. I cried body shaking sobs over this information. I felt instant grief. Not grief over my loss as one would feel over the death of a parent he or she knew, but grief over this missing piece of my personal puzzle. Grief over the fact I never got to face him. I never got to ask him any questions. I never got to hear his side of the story. I never got to know if he was sorry for what he put my mother through or the impact it had on me. I never got to know if he was sorry that he never reached out to me. I never got to look into his eyes and ask anything at all.

I walked back into my house after I hung up and poured another shot and then stood in the kitchen just holding it and bawling. My poor teenage boys had no real idea what was going on. My children, whom are extremely connected to me and my emotions, jumped into action and immediately came to me. My oldest hugged me tight for a few seconds while I proceeded to cry harder. When he let go and I was still standing there doing the ugly cry, my younger son then came and grabbed me with such intensity, I was surprised, He held on even tighter while whispering comfort in my ear.

I was shocked at my own reaction. I had no idea I’d feel so intensely. I had no idea it would hurt me to my very core. I had had a feeling when I was driving home from work that night that I was going to find out he had already passed away as I knew he was in his late 70’s, but I was unprepared to hear it for certain. I literally cried without stopping for more than an hour. Then, for the next several hours, I cried at the drop of a hat. And just when I thought I’d pulled myself together, my biological brother called me back.

We talked for 30 minutes and in that first phone call, I could tell that I liked him already. He was open, honest, and tender. He told me facts I’d been wanting to know my entire life. He told me that he thought that his (our) father had had an affair with my mother. We discussed how even if it was consensual (a claim my mother adamantly denies, and I believe her), the law is very black and white on this topic. When being employed as a prison guard, it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with an inmate. Much like a “willing” teenager with an adult, it is considered rape, and for good reason. It was then that he told me something that was incredibly dear to me; he told me that no matter what the circumstances were, he was embracing our newfound relationship and that he is there for me. I then cried some more.

That night on Facebook I wrote, “Those moments. . .those moments that knock the air from your lungs. . .the moments that punch your heart with the force of a Mack truck. . .the moments that hurt so intensely you don’t know when you’ll come up for a breath between sobs. . .I hate those life moments. I feel a MAJOR blog post coming on.” That blog post I spoke of is this here.

***

In the time that has passed since that first day, I’ve had so much on my mind. I can’t help but think about what my mother went through. My heart hurts for her. I can’t imagine it’s easy for her knowing that I’ve reached out to his family. I know that she just wants me to have peace. I can also imagine that me revealing what I’ve done to get in contact with them has probably also brought up old feelings for her. Unfortunately, I don’t really get to know what she is thinking and feeling because we’re not very close and we don’t talk much.

Because of the situation surrounding my conception, we never bonded like normal mother and child. She remained in prison after I was born and I went off to foster care. The first 2 years of my life are something I know almost nothing about. But even once my mother was “free,” she was never really free. She endured hell and then had a child to take care of in the center of that. I love my mom, but her entire situation was damaging and had an impact on everything about me. The foundation I had in life set me up for failure–and oh boy have I failed (there are plenty of old and future blog posts about that, so I’ll skip over that here). But I don’t blame my mom. She lived through a really shitty situation and she came out of it the only way she knew how to. She chose to give me life even when the prison tried heavily to convince her to have an abortion. She kept me and later told me that it didn’t have to matter that I was conceived in such a manner, I could be just hers. Sadly, it did matter, it still does, and it will matter the rest of my life.

Through all of this though, I have a newfound respect for my mom. One of my first requests of my brother was to see pictures of “him.” I was simply curious to know what he looked like. Because I look so much like my mother, I never thought there would be any physical resemblance. Within a couple days, my brother sent me some emails with several pictures. I was totally unprepared, and when I opened an obviously old photo of his wedding, I found myself staring at a male version of my own face. It took my breath away and tears again sprang to my eyes (for like the millionth time in the last couple weeks) because I was looking at my own eyes in this old photograph. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, I again thought of my mother. This woman, this incredibly strong woman, raised me as best as she could, she loved me, and she disciplined me–all while looking at a child, her child, who has her rapist’s eyes.

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***

Side note: When I started writing this blog post two weeks ago, it was meant to be about “him” and I. It’s turned into a complicated post, but more about my mom than anyone else. My mom is exactly where I get my strength from. She is where I’ve gotten my independence, my strong will, and my courage. Ladies and gentlemen, my mother is a regular badass, and I’m proud to call her my mom.

I Am More Than My Cleavage

I Am More Than My Cleavage? Seriously?! What kind of world do we live in that I feel the need to write a blog with that title?

In order to truly explain my thought process and feelings behind all this, I must give you some background info. As a teenager, like many confused kids, I had attention issues. Hell, I still do (I mean, hello, I write a blog—pay attention to me! Haha). My attention issues then were different though. Yes, I was that girl that fooled around with the boys before my peers did. As a young woman with large breasts and a curvy body, developed long before I knew what to do with it, it was easy to discover how I could get the attention that I craved.

When I moved to my small town, the place I now call home, I was just beginning to really act out. I desperately wanted to fit in and be one of the Cool Kids. I wanted to be liked and paid attention to. I was a mere 13 years old, but thought of myself as a grown up. It only took a month or two to not only catch the attention of some of the popular boys, but also to make myself ostracized. I realized after it was too late that I was the girl the boys wanted, the girl the girls hated, and the girl no one wanted to be publicly associated with. I wasn’t understood and I didn’t know how to behave any differently.

I struggled with this stuff my entire youth. It was a constant fight inside myself between wanting to be paid attention to and wanting with all of my aching teenage heart to not be an outcast. I wanted to be liked for who I was inside my tender soul, but I kept searching for it with my cleavage.

Now to fast forward many years, many heartaches, many milestones, and much personal growth, I’m no longer that broken girl. But you know what? Society is. We live in this era of everything being sexual, insane beauty standards constantly in our faces, and a terribly sad casual attitude about sexual activity in our society. Teenagers (along with the adults, of course) are exchanging naked selfies, even fast food commercials use sex to sell, no one bats an eye at casual sex and “friends with benefits,” and we push birth control on 12 year olds. Along with all of this, women seem to be seen in general as sex objects and nothing more. When one is lusting after the barely dressed woman on the cover of Cosmo, he or she is not thinking about who that woman is, what matters to her, or what she has going on in her life—he or she is thinking about how great her breasts look or how amazing those thighs are, et cetera. This objectification doesn’t just go for those we see on television, on magazine covers, or in online ads. It spills over into how we see women in real life. In fact, that statement right there, “real life,” shows just how deep this goes. Those women, photoshopped, covered in makeup, and in glossy print everywhere you look—they’re still real women.  They still have feelings, goals, family, struggles, and triumphs that have nothing to do with the image you see on those screens or magazine covers.

While writing this, I decided to do some quick research about how many ads the typical American sees in a day because it’s relevant to my point on what we are seeing without even realizing it on a daily basis. There are no hard and fast numbers, but many sources estimate that the number of daily ads we see can reach into the thousands. THOUSANDS! Think about it, every time you log onto Pandora, every time you pass a city bus, check out at the grocery store, sit in front of your TV, get on Facebook, play a mobile game, flip through a magazine in a waiting room, step in front of a television in Wal-Mart, shop online, walk down the cereal aisle, drive through town, use the Internet to help your children with homework, and even getting into an elevator in bigger cities—your eyes are bombarded with advertisements. Thousands of images every day flood into your brain whether you realize it or not, and many of these are using edited images of “sexy” women. According to mediaed.org, it is thought that only around 8% of an ad’s message is consciously received into the mind. So much info is being put into our minds, and while we may not realize it, that data soaks into our brains anyway.

But I’m straying from my point here. When we are teaching those in society through this constant onslaught of images that women are to be lusted after, that deeply ingrained, unconscious act cannot be compartmentalized into just viewing women in media this way. It becomes how our youth sees their female peers. It is how grown men see their coworkers. It is how old men see younger generations of women. The list goes on… It is even how us women now tend to see each other and ourselves. As human beings, our eyes take in how others look and our bodies and brains are stimulated accordingly. Without having guarded hearts and trained minds, we unconsciously objectify others based on these standards, and I have recently had much personal experience to remind me of this.

I have been struggling the last several months with having gone through a breakup of a serious relationship and all that goes with that. I’ve had loneliness and a desire to be accepted and wanted by others. In some ways, bits of that broken teenage girl in me crept back to the surface, and that allowed me to put my guard down without realizing it. Unlike when I was a kid though, we have this wonderful thing called social media these days. It often gives a false sense of connectedness with others, and it also gives many people the guts to say things online that wouldn’t be said face to face. I could give several examples of this, but to save face and space to this already very long post, I’m going to just give one example of how outrageous this objectification has become, and it has an impact.

The one incident that punched me in the gut emotionally and I knew would result in this post with this exact title happened around two months ago. Like most, I have a Facebook account and around 300 “friends” on it. Also like most women, I change my profile picture on it often. I use a little app on my phone to make pretty edited pictures that make the perfect size for a “pro pic.” One day, I changed my picture without thinking about the unintentional cleavage that was showing. Remember, long gone are my days of wanting to draw people in with my breasts, but because they are large, cleavage happens sometimes regardless. I was leaving work when I suddenly got an instant message from a male friend that threw me off. I wasn’t on Facebook at the moment and wasn’t even aware yet of the comments on my new profile picture, but all it took was one friend to comment about my cleavage on this picture before there were suddenly a small handful of comments about my breasts. What was worse though was the message from my “friend.” One word. Boobies.

I had no idea what it meant when the Facebook message texted my phone. I honestly thought it was an accident. I got online to inquire about it. I opened up my messages, and sure enough, it was the one word and then a selfie of him.

Me: Boobies?

Him: Yeah, I like them.

Him: *shirtless selfie*

Him: Where’s my pic now? You always show your boobs hanging out. Let ’em loose.

I was appalled and so very hurt. I had previously thought this guy was kinda cute and had known we had stuff in common, so I was actually pleased that he messaged me at first. But I was not happy that he felt it was okay to not just bring up such inappropriate subject matter so boldly, but to talk to me as if I wasn’t even a normal human being deserving of respect. I was ashamed even though I’d done nothing to ask for this kind of treatment. I was deeply hurt that he talked to me like this completely unsolicited and without an ounce of respect–especially when it was the first time he’d ever initiated conversation with me.

Me: There’s websites for that ya know.

Him: Yeah, but why online if it’s local?

I teared up reading his messages. I was thoroughly blown away. In an instant, I was that hurting young woman that wanted to be one of the Cool Kids so badly, but I was also the adult I am now and knew that no matter what I was feeling, I was NOT going to allow this to continue.

Me: Because I’m more than just my cleavage.

Him: Yeah, you got an ass too.

Me: *Closes Facebook*

I realized that I felt shame before I had even done anything. There was embarrassment that had lived there inside me so long. Humiliation from acts so long ago that caused me to still feel that hurt as a grown woman. But he didn’t get what he wanted, and I kept my dignity. I honestly meant what I said. I AM more than my cleavage. Whether it was intentional or accidental, cleavage did not give him permission to completely disregard the fact that I am a woman with feelings. I have lived and succeeded through major struggles, I have experienced great joys, I have beautiful children that think I’m the most important person on earth, and I have been hurt badly, loved madly, and helped others gladly. I am a woman, not an object! Even though it’s taken me a while longer in life to discover it, I am worthy of love, tenderness, and respect. I. Am. More. Than. My. Cleavage.