It Begins with Me

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I took the picture you see, with all the multicolored string. It’s a self portrait of sorts, stemming from a class I took at Iowa State during my time striving for my Bachelor degree in Design.

If I could be anything I wanted, I’d be an art photographer and a writer.

I turn 50 this year and it feels a bit surreal. I don’t feel 50. Does anyone feel 50? I don’t look 50 and I suppose that’s a good thing. When I was young, I was told I had an “old soul” and a wise mind. I never felt old or wise. I still don’t. I keep wondering when that will kick in.

I have four children, one through adoption and 3 from my body. My oldest was adopted in a previous relationship which ended badly and he wanted nothing to do with our son afterward. He has special needs and requires round-the-clock care. When J came into my life as more than a friend, he accepted my oldest as his and became in every way his father. That was part of what drew me to him, to be honest – I saw in him the most amazing ability to be a dad. And he certainly is.

He gave me three children who are now 14, 12, and 6. My oldest is 22 and will be 23 by year’s end. It truly is strange how time passes quick yet slow, and then you blink and it’s 20 years past. I can remember their first steps, their first laugh, their first true tears. I remember it all and watching them grow up has been both a joy and a terrible pain. As I understand it, that is simply how parenthood goes.

I have been many things in my life. I have done just about every kind of job imaginable in the service industry, spanning food service to administration. I have driven trucks and buses. I have run businesses and I have worked for others. I have handed out tools and I have processed pigs into meat. I am a jack of all trades.

I used to think that was an insult when I was young. Now, it feels like a badge of honor. There’s not much I can’t do or learn to do. I am not afraid of challenges. I have lived without running water and I have left signs of civilization behind to camp and hunt. I was taught to take care of myself: I can hunt, sew, clean, cook, and gather. I know how to make soap and I know how to chop wood. I love technology but can walk away from it and just be. I love to drink and I love to be sober. I have always been of at least two minds about everything. I like myself.

I set out as a young adult to be myself. I had no idea what that meant. In the last 30 years of tears, struggles, and triumphs, and quite a few disastrous failures, I have learned who I am and I have proven to myself that I am stronger, and weaker, than I could ever imagine. I am not going to live forever, despite my young assurances to the contrary. I am flawed. I am imperfect. I am a pain in the ass, but I am me.

I am coming to the realization that if I want to change things, I’m going to have to get out there and do it. It’s a terrifying thought that my opinions and what I am driven to say and do could get me killed, but it’s worse to think my children would be harmed. I’ve been living carefully since they were born, walking that fine line between being involved and being too involved. I need to raise my children.

The other night, one of my sons – the 12 year old – said he was surprised I didn’t attend the women’s march in DC. I told him I wanted to, but it wasn’t something that I could realistically do. He asked me why. I said, we can’t afford it and I can’t leave you guys alone that long – what would your father do? He gave me an odd look and said, “Pretty sure we’d be fine. We do fine in the summer when you travel. Maybe you just don’t really want to go and we’re an easy excuse.”

It gave me pause. Was he right? I suppose on some level, perhaps. I realized that I am sending a message by my inaction and I’m not sure it’s one that I want my children to learn. I suppose I will just have to jump in, and land where I can. I worry that my choices will hurt my children, either from action or inaction. I worry constantly if I am putting them first and being a good mother. I worry often that I put too much on my plate and then fall short of my goals, which puts a strain on our finances and on my husband. He never complains however, and has never fallen short in his support of me, my dreams, goals, and plans.

I’m slowly inching toward the idea of striving for human rights and change within the government, running for office and seeking to get face to face with the people that I have spent half my life angry at. I have no money and I am not a professional anything – can I run for office and do any good whatsoever? These are the questions that plague my mind late at night.

In the end, I suspect I will simply be laying the groundwork for my children to strive forward into the fight. There is pride in knowing I am raising good, decent, strong men for the next generation. I teach them patience and compassion. I enforce the idea that they are people and I don’t have a right to destroy their ability to choose, whether or not I agree with them. I feel strongly that these young men I am raising will one day rattle the status quo and challenge the world.

For now, that’s where I am and where I start my fight. We shall see where it goes from here.

Jaz

 

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