Princess

Notes from the front lines: a 9-year-old's take

By Lola

This is what Disney World is like for girls, not for boys or men... not that gender ends there. “Right here, princess,” over and over again. It felt the same as how I feel when people call me a "little girl." It makes me feel like they don't see me, or care what I think or believe I am important. And I am not little.  

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Even though I’m nine, I know that the identity of a kid and girl doesn’t get much respect. I have sensed this since I was very young. People don't take my ideas into consideration or believe me when I'm upset.  

Imagine being called “princess” every day because of your identity. Now imagine an adult speaking to you in a high-pitched voice that they would never use with each other. When that happens, I feel that person is talking down to me because I am younger but the pitch also just makes it harder to understand them. 

It also makes me angry when someone calls me a little girl. For me, there are two things wrong with that: 1) I am not little and hate being called that. 2. I don’t like being called a girl. I prefer young woman or my name: Lola. Young woman feels more powerful. More like who I am. When I was younger and called “little girl” or “girl,” I would always say, “I’m not a girl, I’m a Lola.” That’s why I feel kids and more importantly girls need more respect. My school troubles remind that because I am a kid and girl I am valued less. Example: When I try to express challenges, I am not taken seriously. 

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Because I am a girl I get treated worse than boys.  The expectations of boys behavior is much lower. They get away with things like physical aggression (I keep getting hit with a ball on purpose at recess for example) and unkind words (boys at school accuse the girls of crying too much, not being as good at sports, not being as capable as them). And the teachers tell us to ignore it. Like it's normal. When I wouldn't expect to get away with treating people like that. Because I am a girl I am expected to do less. I love sports. But when I just want to play sports at recess I have to deal with sexism from the boys. I don't get to play the positions I like. And spend a lot of the time trying not to be mad at the way they talk to me. Identities can change what people think of you before they get to know you. I just want to be who I am and not have pretend to be someone else because of what people expect. 

How you can help: I want people to treat kids with respect. Let me in on decisions about me, take my ideas seriously, and call me by my name, those are changes I like. 

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Lola

is a fifth-grade student currently residing in the Midwest. She is a self-proclaimed history buff and bookworm, gravitating mostly to nonfiction work about revolutionaries.

In her free time she practices Brazilian jiujitsu, listens to music, and plays with her dog, Bader (named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg).

Perception

A mother sees herself through her daughter's eyes.

By Karen Turner

The way we perceive ourselves isn’t always how the people we know and love perceive us. A reflection on my identity sent me to my daughter, an 18-year-old high school graduate about to start her first year at Langston.  

I wanted her to tell me how I was the shit and she wouldn’t want another mother if she could choose. And while she did say that in so many words, she also made me accept a hard truth about myself.  

Talk about growing, and continuing to do so.   

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I am a 39-year-old African-American mother of three. My oldest is the daughter I spoke of. I also have a 14-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my mother moved to Kansas City, Missouri, when I was five years old. I’ve lived here my whole life. Raised by a single mother of four, I learned survival skills at a young age. I witnessed firsthand what sacrifices a mother makes for her children. I observed and would ultimately mimic this as love without words.   


If I can be honest for a moment, I would say that I really never wanted to be a mother. It looked hard. Like a struggle.  


See, my mother had four kids by four different fathers. My siblings and I never thought we looked alike, and honestly, we don’t. My sister and I are of a dark complexion, my older brother is a medium hue of brown, and my baby brother is somewhere in between all of us. I am the second child, the oldest girl. Growing up I never felt pretty, but I was smart. All the adults around me said that, anyway.  

I grew up in the ’80s, when terms like “tar-baby,” “African-booty scratcher,” and shit like that were terms of endearment used by family members. These are the people who unconsciously set you up to fail and then judge you when you do. 

I grew up feeling ugly. Being constantly being made fun of for having a darker pigmentation than those around you, people of the same race (hell, some of them darker than you, but who still made you feel less-than because of your gender) takes a toll. I don’t think they knew how those words would shape and mold me. Several have said since then, “We were playing” or “You still thinking about that?” Some will admit that they had no idea that I was struggling with low self-esteem, especially since I was so “smart and grown” for my age. (Clearly being taught that I was ugly because I was dark-skinned — and believing it — was dumb.) 

The thing about family is they are the first people we as individuals look to for identity. We want others to somehow define for us who we are. Or maybe it’s that our families are supposed to teach us and encourage us to define and search for ourselves.  

That was not my personal experience, and it would be years until I was able to see the root of it all.  


If I were to describe myself, I would say that I am a hard-working mother, who — similar to my own mother — displays my love by acts of service. I do things for people I love.  

Yet because I know how I craved hearing my mother say “I love you,” I make sure I say it to my children.  

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My children’s father and I met when I was 18 years old and we are not married. What my situation taught me was that no matter if you have one father of your children or four, being a mother is still hard work and sacrifice.   

I value family and my friends are my family. I live by a code of loyalty and tend to take it personally when other don’t value the same. I extend myself to others unselfishly and this can be a blessing and a curse.  


I am a case manager for homeless and at-risk youth. I’ve worked in the mental and behavioral health field for 17 years and have held various positions. I love helping people. I identify with the at-risk youth. 

At one point I was there myself, and I feel it’s my duty to let them know there is more, that with a little resilience, perseverance, and determination, they, too, can do whatever they want.  


I struggled to feel adequate in a field that transitioned from passion and dedication to having degrees and letters behind your name. My staying power has always resided in the fact that I brought something different.  


Sometimes my work transfers over to my home life. My daughter shares that I am very passionate about the work I do and that at times it consumes me.   

She says she sees me as a “confident, real, down to earth, free-spirit,” but explains that at times I have not been available emotionally, mentally, or physically to her because of youth I worked with calling me after hours. She speaks of that cousin or best friend who pops up unannounced and requires a therapy session because I have all the answers.  

Then she talks about my overload and the outbursts that follow. Points to my episodes of passing out, which the doctor may have misdiagnosed as vertigo. The fact that I wore a heart monitor for 30 days, and that a MRI is yet to be done because I refuse to go back.  

I try to excuse this, say that the children I service don’t have the things she has. In my mind, I'm building character. I’m teaching her that it doesn’t cost you anything to treat people with dignity and respect.  

I never noticed that her observation of me was similar to the one I had of my mom. I never noticed that I took care of others to avoid taking care of myself. I never noticed that being in an unhealthy relationship so that I could have “one baby-daddy” would deter my daughter from wanting one at all.  

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She spoke of the original breakup of her father and me when she was five. It was as if she could see the day it happened. That shit hurt me to my core. I didn’t think she could remember it so vividly.  

My baby talked about how from that day, whenever she would blow the candles on her birthday cake, her wish was that we got back together. She confides how happy she was when after 10 years of wishing, it happened. About a year into it again, however, she says she started to notice me changing, says the mother she knew to be so down to earth and open had become someone more reserved and moody.  

I listened intently as my daughter discussed with me what she’d concluded to be my sacrifices. She became teary-eyed when she said, “Mama, I know you only stayed with Daddy because of us.” She spoke of wanting it for years. I knew she was excited, and when reasons for the original breakup resurfaced, I sucked it up!  


I had also secretly prayed for our reunion. During the years we split, I wouldn’t allow any other man close to my heart. (That’s where that blessing and curse comes in.) I continued a sexual relationship with him knowing that he had other relationships. When I became pregnant again after 10 years, I knew it was a sign that we were supposed to try.  

What I didn’t realize is we both had changed! Nothing about us was the same. I kind of laughed and was like, “What?”  


I never identified myself as someone who runs from her problems, giving people advice I should have taken for myself. But I kind of was. I tried so hard to hide this part of me. I tried to busy myself with others problems because then I didn’t have to look at my own.  

I am a contradiction to the saying “misery loves company.” Not my ass, I want see people happy even in my misery.  


I understand that my children may look at me and see a completely different version of myself than I do. I can also admit that while their perception is not mine, it’s still part of who I am. 


I heard this on a spiritual channel from author Sara Jake Roberts: “It wasn’t until I could identify that there was something functioning on the inside of me that was birthed in low-self-esteem and insecurities that I started to access who I was. I now realize how all those little pieces, whether good, bad, or ugly, make up the woman I identify as today.”  

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Karen Turner

is a dedicated and passionate mother of three who resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s spent the past 17 years working in the mental and behavioral-health field. Currently a case manager for at-risk & homeless youth, Ms. Turner’s hobbies include reading, journaling, dancing, and listening to music. 

Spiral Notebook

On motherhood, generational martyrdom, and choice.

By Antonia Welsch

My memories of my mom are of a thin-lipped woman sitting across from me at the doctor’s office holding her spiral notebook of my symptoms. She would sit quietly, lost in her own thoughts, waiting for the next diagnosis, or run of prescriptions, or newfangled machine I would have to breathe through.

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I was born with limited lung capacity, and every sniffle I got as a kid, every cough and cold, turned into severe bronchial asthma. My gasping for breath kept us both up more nights than I can count. I didn’t understand how serious it all was until later. Or how tired my mom must have been. I was just a kid, swinging my legs against the examination table, hoping to get French fries after the appointment.

Recently my son’s cold turned into a cough, which turned into a wheeze, which turned into a seven-day ordeal with three doctors, a nebulizer, and sleepless nights strung in a row. We were back in urgent care again, for what I hoped would be the last emergency for a while.  

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I looked down at my iPhone where I had typed my notes: “3 days green mucous. Temp. Wheezing. Cough worsens in evening. Wakes self up. Difficulty with nebulizer. Eggs. Milk. Formula. Strawberries. Toilet Paper.” There was something else we needed from the store. What was it? I don’t know. I didn’t sleep at all last night. Or I did, but only for 90 minutes. I was breathless with exhaustion. My bones ached. I lost focus of my list and stared blankly at my hands. The cold of winter had dried them out, making them look much older and more worn than I had noticed before. 

In a rush it all came back to me. My mom. The endless waiting rooms. Her grim expression. The sleepless nights coughing. Me hooked up to an ancient nebulizer that was so loud it shook the floor.

It was the same. These hands were her hands. My expression was her expression. This exhaustion, hers passed down. I hadn’t breathed or smiled or showered in a week. And there I sat, every fiber of my being worried and frayed, waiting for the next step. The next to-do. Not a second for joy or rest until my child was well. I had given everything I had and there was nothing left.

I once heard someone say the only choice we have, from one generation to the next, is just to try to do better. It won’t ever be perfect. Our children will always find faults and issues and there will be mistakes. But we must simply learn and try. That’s all we have. My mom had a tremendously caring heart, but she gave too much away. She didn’t keep anything for herself until her nerves were shot and her spirit depressed. She spent years just getting through day by day because she was empty. The well had run dry. In many ways, this cycle broke her.

Henry and I got home from the doctor about an hour later, and he went down easily for his nap.  I crawled into bed and grabbed a notebook. I started to draw circles. The way I figured it, I had to start moving in smaller circles. If I hadn’t checked off the four at the center — sleep, nutrition, peace and quiet, and hygiene — I couldn’t move on to anything in the outer circles. No cleaning. No chores. No “it has to get done.” No “pass go.” The stuff on in the outer layers was all good and important, but I couldn’t do any of it unless a foundation was there. I had to carve out a life that was sustainable. 

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When I was done I looked at what I had drawn. The emotion that had been lodged in my throat bubbled up as big tears that rolled down my cheeks. “I’m doing it,” I thought. This time, I looked proudly at my worn hands. There are no rules in this game. Just the urge to learn and try again. I set down my spiral notebook and promptly fell asleep.

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Antonia Welsch

 

is finding her voice in Minneapolis, Minn. She is a writer, a mother, and a low-key cubicle desk-person from 9 to 5. She has written candidly about her journey to and through motherhood on her website www.iamantonia.com and her Instagram,  @_ants_ .

Hurt

By Priscilla Thomas

 

I’m not good at being hurt. It has always been important for me to be strong. Strong is safe. Strong is capable. Strong is dependable. Strong isn’t hurt. When I’m hurt, I feel worthless, and embarrassed, and inadequate. And completely out of my body, as if it’s not me anymore, but instead some defective, unwanted machinery.

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There is popular advice about body image that encourages you to shift your thinking from what you look like to what you can do. I’ve shared that advice myself, and written about how trying to transition into that mindset has helped me change my relationship with myself. But it presents its own problems, because I am still me. I tie my worth to capability instead of size, and it’s not better. It’s not different.

When I’m strong, I’m worthy. I’m good. When I want to be stronger, more capable, I’m not enough. Not working enough, not dedicated enough, not good enough. And when I’m too tired or injured to work out, when I’m recovering from sickness and unable to lift my heaviest or go my hardest, I am done. I have no value.

It’s one more failure.

A muscle spasm laid me out for two weeks. I spent most of my time lying on my side, trying to avoid the migraines that gathered my brain in two clawed handfuls and raked the pieces apart. Days of vomiting from the pain, worrying over missing the weeks of school before holiday break. I was well-cared for by my partner, and I was convinced I was infecting him. My sadness was a heavy vapor he breathed in each time he leaned over my aching, the sheen of anxiety on my skin was soaking into his gently soothing palm. Each day, the rooms grew narrower, the air more still, my body more foreign.

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“Your body is not broken. You are not broken.” I had tried to sit up. My head was locked in place, so he sat at my feet, laying these lamb-soft words across my lap. Sharp pinches and yanks rippled up and down my spine, each one determined to tell me otherwise.


After a few weeks of sessions, one of my physical therapists, Amani, dug her elbow into my right butt cheek and declared my piriformis in her Tightest Top Five.

“Ever?” I asked.

“Ever,” she said, and I laughed, because it was all I could do with the words stuck in that fist beneath my collarbones.

The week before, she had poked at the same spot with two gentle fingertips while I tried not to rip the cushion off the massage table. “I think you store all your stress in your tush, lady,” she told me.

I said she should ask Lucy, the massage therapist eviscerating my neck muscles every Tuesday, about where I keep my stress.

Lucy called me “girl,” “Amani,” “lady,” and they both asked me every week, “What is going on?”

One evening, after Anik had teased me through the brutal burn of banded walkouts, I told him how disappointing it was to not be able to do what I wanted to do, how these physical therapist workouts used to be warm-ups for me and now they would leave me shaking and sore.

“I know,” I said quickly. “I need to be where I am. I know I’m recovering.” The words came out in someone else’s voice, like they were shaped by someone else’s teeth.

Gently, Anik told me that it’s good to have the background that I do. Body awareness, he said, is what PT is really all about. That’s the secret.

I laughed, at nothing, because all the things I wanted to say were too heavy, too sharp to push up into the air.

On my way home, melancholy and bad memories sloshed around inside me like too much candy in my belly: the grainy heat in my throat, the smoky tingling behind my eyes. I was thinking of things I try not to think of, feeling ghosts of hands I try to forget.


Body awareness, for me, is knowing that it’s not simply stress I keep tied up in my muscles. It means knowing my body isn’t always a nice place to be. It means being here anyway, mid-exorcism, welcoming myself back to my haunted self. I’ve been studying trauma and bodies for over a decade and still I resist applying what I know to myself. So much of living with trauma, after all, is insisting that you’re “fine.”

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Shortly after the second debilitating muscle spasm, only months from the first, a friend texted me to tell me she was pissed.

“None of this is your fault. When does it stop? I don’t know. For any of us.”

I held her anger in my hands like a chunk of broken, jagged-edged rock. “This probably isn’t helpful,” she continued, but I thought otherwise of the weight of this stone jaw giving my hands new shape. I had learned always to point the fingers, the blades, back at me; to eat the blame and bear out only silence.

It is easier to label my body the problem, ill-fitting of norms and held beliefs as it is, than to say, “No, this is a body built despite attempts to destroy it — despite shame, despite abuse, despite secrets and lies — and it functions differently than some.” It’s easier than saying, “I’m doing the best I can,” and believing it.

It’s easier not to say any of this because people will insist they know better. Because you’ll be fussy. Sensitive. Too specific and particular and precious. Too delicate. Because you can tell people who you are, what you need, how you want to be treated, and they won’t listen. So it’s easier to let yourself be misdiagnosed and misunderstood, and misrepresented, and maligned. To do so to yourself. Until it isn’t.


I remember teenage growing pains, the deep aching that seemed to be splintering my bones from the center. There was no soothing them. I could only lay in bed, tossing uselessly from side to side. Stretching uselessly, kicking uselessly, massaging uselessly until the surface of my skin felt as tender as the marrow.

It’s a bit like that now. It’s that deep pain I can’t touch, plus the knowledge that there is no way to get past it except to go through it.

I want to pick up immediately where I left off, as if this pain has just been an interlude. As if I have pressed pause to quickly to attend to some other matter and now I am ready to play again, no recap necessary. I want to get back to feeling like myself, as if myself is only the version of me that can lift the heaviest weight, endure the most grueling of days, accomplish everything on the to-do list and then some.

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Finding myself where I am at takes work. I know, in the knowing part of my brain, that I am here. I know that I am myself when I cut the lists in half, and in half again, when I go home at the end of a workday instead of staying after for hours. I know I am myself when I do my five squats and five push-ups, once a day. I check the box; I say, “Done.” I tell myself I did a good job. I filter the fitness newsletters to a hidden inbox, ignore the ads for “just 45 minutes a day” workout plans. I unfollow and unfollow, mute and mute, until I can convince myself that I am not lazy and in need of a jumpstart.

I never feel like I’m doing it right. Relief is not the tangible, low-hanging fruit of pushing heavy weight overhead. I miss PRs and sweat and easy movement. I miss not being in pain. I miss not filling every deep breath with pleas to my body, get well get well get well.

Five squats, five push-ups, until moving feels safe and normal again.

When I tell myself that it Is not enough, that I should throw in 20 minutes of yoga or a quick kettlebell workout, that I should do more work, more chores, more and more, I practice the same response: This is going to take the time it takes, so take the time. It’s the kind of poem I like to say aloud to myself, just on the edge of nonsense and easy to repeat over and over, to turn inside out.

Take the time, it takes the time to take.

Five and five, one and done.

Until it’s time.