Looking Forward, Looking Back

I love nostalgia. Capturing the moment. Journaling. This site has become sort of a living version of this.

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I started AsquaredMamasquared to indulge my own creativity and to feel like I could get out the things I couldn’t always talk about in real life. I don’t write here for other people; that’s not why I started. But here, and on my other blog, StyleSaVie where I chronicle my travels with my wife, style and artsy stuff, I get so much back from the kind emails, comments and encouragement of an online community.

I have a life and a job that I love, and I have a hunch that I will like looking back at a snapshot of what life has been like, whether it’s the year in review, or a decade from now.

In the spirit of hearkening back and looking ahead, a question: Do you believe in resolutions? For me this year will be about intention- being intentional. I want some guiding phrases, not edicts for a new year.

*Joy – be more joyful, rather than shredding joy with the tools of perfectionism, anxiety or guardedness. I am pretty comfortable with living and embracing vulnerability, but I can definitely get mired down, perseverating on things that just aren’t important. I’m going to Marie Kondo my attitude; does it spark joy? No? Then heave-ho!

*Let Go – This time of the physical stuff: of clutter, of things that no longer serve me. But also the metaphysical stuff: of the idea of perfect, or fears like ‘missing out,’ things taking too long to accomplish, or wondering what the next year will hold. Also, I’m getting rid of the self-judgement. I don’t judge the people I love; why do I do it to myself? I love me. But I should do it better.

*Start Now – this is the moment. Don’t wait for a ‘good time,’ or the ‘right’ time. If I see a repair in the house, go get the tools. If I think about a friend, call that person when it pops into your head. If I want something, what will I do to get it?

Keep indulging and seeking new experiences. Don’t be complacent. If what I want is to savour a new taste and have another glass of wine. I will. If what I want is to get back to the Ballet Barre… I will do that, too. Also, Be creative. Remember how lucky I am. Celebrate my relationships. Take a deep breath. Don’t be frugal with your love and affection.

*Invest in people who invest in you. And invest in yourself!

*Create routines, but only if they help you reach these goals. I did 365 days of Outfits of the Day last year (which you can find in the style heading), so I can definitely do more mindful writing. Starting today: Journalling.

See you on the other side,

Alison (one half of AsquaredMamasquared)

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Illusion of Depth

I saw this handout (for art class) sitting on my office printer and giggled to my colleague that this should be the title of my autobiography. She joked back that she thinks the opposite is true – I am deeper than I appear to be. I cultivate the impression that I’m more shallow than I really am.

I guess I do let people underestimate me sometimes, ‘ All the better to see you, hear you and eat you,…My dears.’

Sometimes having a persona that doesn’t totally match who you are is helpful – passing, for example, means I overhear so many conversations that latent homophobes would never have in front of me, if it occurred to them that I might be queer. That’s when I slide into the conversation.

Sometimes it’s for self-preservation – it maintains a buffer.

It’s true. It’s raw being an open vein, walking around feeling everything and thinking the dark thoughts. Plus people don’t tend to appreciate getting blood on them when all you were actually asked is, ‘How are you?’

People tend to want stock answers.

Not – the Trump administration is bumming me out; I’ve been contemplating the death of god; I just dealt with a teen suicide attempt; I am worried about rape culture; I’m not sure how I will pay for our fertility costs and am harbouring a deep feeling of rage, mixed with self-pity that so many thoughtless people are easily reproducing without actually actively wanting to have and raise real human beings.

Nope. I play up the light and rosy hued. Today I’m wearing a sweater with appliqués of popsicles, cacti and bananas on it. I wear bright lipstick. I talk about Instagram and Beyoncé. I often use teen slang – awkwardly for students, to emphasize our age difference while using it without irony with my own friends. Why?

It has occurred to me before than I present differently, depending on the company. But it wasn’t until G said this that I realized there is a method to the madness, and some people are wise to it.

I add a softer edge to the part of me that is bold and outspoken. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps my truth go down. It is apparent to me, after at least two decades of dumb comments made to me, like ‘wow, I never realized how smart you are,’ or ‘you’re so pretty for a lesbian… are you sure you are one?’ … usually followed by some implication that mascara and brains don’t tend to go together. Right? We can’t be more than one thing.

I have been told some people find me intimidating, even though I spend half my life laughing and smiling. I get it, I have big feelings – but I am deeply fair. As loving as I am fierce.

This works to my advantage. It means I can stop a room full of teenagers from talking (or throwing chairs.. really) with one word and sometimes a look. Or send them into fits of giggles. It means my friends, in stressful moments or high pressure work gigs, have told me they say to themselves ‘channel Alison’. But it also means that when I care about something enough, my anger makes me cry, like twice in the last week, and that I can come across as one of those ‘ angry lesbian feminists,’ which says a lot about people and their attitudes about what should make people angry. Legitimately. My own feelings wreck me sometimes. No wonder I’ve learned to costume them.

I blame my parents. They have always supported my right to own my own feelings. They never dismissed me with the typical adultism we all experience.

But it’s hard, too, when you realize the lipstick and floral dresses are also your armour, as much as a passion for adorable prints, because society is conditioned to accept and welcome nice packaging. The Trojan horse. While they might recoil at a woman in full armour and battle gear, they invite me to sit and never see the double agent coming; so we wear ourselves under our manicures, ready to ‘speak daggers, but use none’ (shakes).

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Is it impostor syndrome or a survival instinct?

Anyone else ever feel like they cultivate a persona that lets them navigate the world less perilously?

Bottoms up.

I started my day by falling out of my car straight onto my ass, as my foot hit a patch of ice concealed under our first big snowfall of the year. This was also my first big snow fall.

There’ve been so many ups and downs. Classes went well. Snow tires got installed by our auto shop department, saving me 90 bucks. After school I had two hours of rehearsal for the musical Annie. I finished choreographing and amazingly adorable number for the orphans.

Then, as I’m getting ready to leave, go home and cook some dinner, I walk out of the rehearsal only to hear someone yell “get your hands off me faggot“. Can I not just have one day go by where I don’t have to deal with hate speech at my place employment? I always address this kind of stuff when I hear it and see it, queer or otherwise, but it just gets to be so demoralizing when it happens and it seems like we have to get murdered for anybody to actually do anything about it. I have a student who was targeted during anti-bully in week, the perp was spoken to, spoken to…. and three days later pushes the same kid in the hallway, and tells her to burn in hell. Yes, let’s talk to this child.

I’m 10 years into my career, and yes things of gotten better, but today for the first time in a few years, before leaving and getting into my car I burst into tears in my staff room.

I can handle conversations where I point out the obvious, that language like this is not appropriate, that it hurts actual people, and that I really like them to do better next time. What I can’t handle is having everyone pretend no one else heard what was said, even though it was screamed in the hallway with 12 people in it, and no one will say anything. So I say… it’s really disappointing that if someone feels comfortable enough speaking that way they won’t take responsibility and apologize for using hate speech in a building that is supposed to be for public education. And then…

I should’ve known this was happening, because it’s been the allotted amount of time for a major outburst, a girl who is lying and her boyfriend’s lap on the floor, chirps, he didn’t say it the way you think you did. And then gets into a five minute argument where she screaming at me, yelling that I don’t know the way people mean things, that it’s not a bad word to the guy who said it, why don’t I (the teacher) just go home, why am I talking to her … she might have well just yelled “you don’t know me!!?” And then scatted …

I was still trying to breathe and find a way to simply ask her if she could consider, it’s reasonable for me to do my job, and ask people not to use profanity, or hate speech, or language that makes people feel unsafe or uncomfortable, while I am at work doing my job. It’s a rare breed that feels comfortable screaming at the top of their lungs at a teacher, and then telling them to go home, because no one wants to hear them talk.

And this, when I had put myself, vulnerably into the conversation, responding when she claimed ‘no one cares,’ that I care. I’m gay. And I do care.

To make matters worse, right at my shoulder was the sweetest trans boy, a student of mine, who is doing everything in his power to try and back me up, and getting so upset at all the horrible things this girl was saying. Ironically, after leaving the hallway to go get an incident report sheet, no one had copped to saying the initial remark, but out of nowhere screamy decides to say out of the blue, that she is sorry I was offended.

And for a second she realizes I’m a human being.

And we talk. And I Replay how I expected the conversation to go. That I’m thankful for her apology, and I’m sure that she had no intention of the conversation going in that direction. And that it’s really hard to come to work and expect multiple times a week to deal with people using your identity as an insult and hearing hate speech when sometimes you are just really, really tired. I feel like we actually got somewhere; her back down, my nerves raw.

And I made it to my office before bursting into tears.

And maybe it’s just that I’m waiting for myperiod to get here, because we can’t do a transfer until it does. Or that, yes I’ve dealt with multiple cases of homophobic bullying experience by students in the last few weeks. And maybe it’s even that my brother and his wife just told us that directly after deciding to ‘not try’ to not get pregnant… are.

It’s all just a lot sometimes. And having to hold yourself together in front of an audience, of judgey, riled up teens, while someone spends five minutes screaming at you…when your day started with falling on your ass, even though it also included laughing your ass off, it’s all just a bit much. And it takes a lot out of you to be a grown-up, and try to be professional, while also being an advocate and a real live human, when the world can be so profoundly shitty.

So, bottoms up. This time no ice. Just a glass of red wine. The couch and some NETFLIX.

Venting Allies – Know Where to Go for the Right Kind of Sympathy

Sometimes when you have a shit day, and you just need to get it all out, it’s helpful to know just whom to call. For me… often it’s my wife. For certain, delicate circumstances … it’s my Dad. Prone to hyperbole in the best way, my wonderful father is always on my side (except when we’ve locked horns) and doesn’t hold back offering opinions that make you feel totally ‘not crazy’ when other people’s behaviour has got you down.

Case in point: today was made infinitely more complicated and exhausting by a colleague who flat out refused a simple favour, because he felt he shouldn’t have to help anyone out, right on the heels of having emailed our entire staff to ask that we all do him a ‘small favour’ – phrased as an instruction, not a request. He literally challenged the requirement to give professional courtesy. Then he protested all day about how this sets a precedent (yup, sure does… a precedent of us making each other’s lives easier if it LITERALLY has no measurable impact on us) that we would all then just… be flexible. Obviously, as a professional courtesy, I’m not going to describe in detail any of his ridiculous, ironically icky behaviour.

My dad though… perfect response. After letting me tell him all about it, he simply says: “He should be staked out in the hot sun.”

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Team player words to live by.

And, thanks Dad. Sometimes you just want someone to be like, “yeah, that dude is total dick.”

 

Keeping Mum

I was recently talking with another awesome blogger about the process of telling, or not telling, people about various parts of your fertility journey. How do you tell family? Friends? Work colleagues? How do you tell your boss?

To whom do you speak, how often and in what degree of detail? These are the questions we face all the time – as queer people, but also as people going through intense emotional, physical and time-consuming appointments and procedures. There are also the unwanted questions and comments that we all experience – which can be off-putting, infuriating, isolating, or create barriers in our future sharing. That will be for another day.

I think the way I handle fertility is reflective of how I handle my gayness in general. I had a pretty easy coming-out, so I've always felt like part of paying that forward is the responsibility to create space and visibility for others. If I was more precariously employed, or had less support in my life, this would drastically shift my approach – but since I feel empowered I find that this confidence transfers to other areas of my life. People often don't speak about fertility (sometimes with concerns for privacy, shame, pain, distress, awkwardness, and many other very good reasons), but since I can, I sometimes feel I should – to make it easier, more normalized, less like coming out, for people who have not had such positive experiences. Even the hard things, I talk about; because I cannot imagine going through three miscarriages with my wife and having to pretend 1) that I don't have a wife, 2) that I am not extremely impacted by these things, 3) that even if I seem fine right now, I might not be okay in 5 minutes, and there is a very good reason for it, 4) I am a human being who has an iceberg of unseen experiences, so if I share the tip of the iceberg it is just one example of the thousand things we all go through that others may not be aware of. Cut people some slack.

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I'm always out, as a rule. But when it comes to our reproductive health, the fact that it happens below the waist, or that it can be about successes and losses, we aren't always as comfortable. This isn't new. Did you know that female teachers, not so far back in history, had to 'discreetly' disappear from their jobs in front of students once they started showing? As though the mere idea of their visible fertility might make students see them as sexual beings, or worse, make them ask questions about where babies come from. They would know 'something' had happened to them. It's weird that pregnancy is celebrated the world over (for a variety of reasons) but is also (for a variety of reasons) treated like it is somehow obscene.

Now, as queer folks, we have the added pleasure of getting a barrage of questions about HOW we conceived, as queer folk, when I'm sure straight people don't get asked: what position were you in when you got knocked up? Were the lights on or off? How much was the bottle of wine you drank before your 'procedure'? Did you use protection/was this the result of a condom malfunction? Maybe I'm being naive… but the things I get asked are SO much more invasive than the general questions I hear my straight friends being asked. It could simply be that people actually have a pretty good understanding of bodies and know that two vaginas won't magically make a baby appear.

All jokes aside, most people who know me KNOW that I'm almost always game to talk about anything, as long as the intention behind the question is positive. Even the awkward stuff.

So, how do I decide (or you) who to talk to about, in what detail?

My friends knew we wanted kids. We mused together how that might go. I used to think how EASY it would be to find a real live human to benevolently help us out with our 'fertility' problem, which is actually a penis problem. A sperm problem, specifically.

My family knew we wanted kids, and my mom helped me through my coping mechanism of claiming 'maybe I don't want to carry' because for a while it looked like Allia might have donor sperm available (in the way we wanted to pursue our family), but that my options were limited. I convinced myself I'd be okay, maybe didn't even want to carry, since it looked like I might not get to. Better to decide for myself, on my terms, than have the choice taken away.

My family cheered and cried with us through the past three years. Allia even, eventually, told her religious, unsupportive family, back in Jamaica, what she had gone through and and hugely relieved to receive the kind of sadness and recognition of loss that you would expect from your family.  Her sister has always been wonderful, and her mom was really coming around. My family, especially my brother, sister-in-law, and my parents, have been our biggest cheering section.

Since we switched to me as the 'vessel' I have been updating my mom, sometimes daily, about follicles, levels, the crappiness of injection medication, etc. I even took out some of the MANY hormones I was reeling from on her when one of those days my darling Mum forgot to check in with me about our final egg count. I was so steamed at her. Obviously, all I wanted was more of the same amazing support.

I get that same support at work: I talk about our struggles openly all the time at work. Three of my colleagues in a work room of 7 women and one man are also doing fertility treatments and struggling with their own journeys. We touch bases all the time, nod knowingly at the bandaids on inner-arms, and late arrivals. We are sensitive to each other and, for those of you NOT living in the beautiful bubble of big-city Canada-land, every one of my coworkers and 60% of the 2000 students at my school know I'm a lesbian and it is a non-issue (always with staff, and 99.5% of the time with students). Our health coverage extends to my wife, even to past common law girlfriends. But there are added costs that aren't anticipated by traditionally heterosexual medical plans. More on that another day.

The Boss and Higher Ups:  Last year, I told my department head (a man), and asked that he keep my plans in mind as soon as scheduling for this term started; we agreed that a later start this year- with my lunch in period 1 (8 am-9:30am) instead of midday, would let me attend doctor's appointments without impacting my kids and classes. This is more planning and fine-tuning to work out, but when the students suffer by having me absent or late, it is worth their effort to accommodate.

I told our Business Manager (a man in his 40s) as soon as I knew I might start fertility monitoring. Why? Because this is the guy who assigns last minute class coverages and supervision schedules. I wanted him on-side about potential late-starts. This business manager… is usually crusty people about asking for anything, but as soon as he heard it was for fertility he assumed the most helpful tone. With Period 1 off, I often get scheduled to cover unexpected absences or missing supply teachers. Him knowing I wasn't just getting coffee and rolling in late (which would never happen anyway) made him far more understanding. Fertility, he said, is beyond my control, totally legitimate and has full support, whereas someone 'preferring' to be able to come in later and not be assigned coverages if they have period one off is a terrible excuse.

Next, my Vice Principal: she is amazing and completely on board. I told her as soon as we started and she was equal parts thrilled for us and sympathetic to what we had already gone through. Compare this to my past VP who, in an effort to console after miscarriage 2 told me, I know someone who 'had 5 and now she has a beautiful baby,' and then 'you're lucky because if your wife can't give birth, you can always try." You all know what I'm talking about. The new VP stepped in immediately when it looked like my schedule might be shifted to a Period 1 University-bound class, which would create huge stress if I wasn't able to get to them every morning, consistently for our 7:45 school day start. She 'handled it,' no questions and it was the biggest relief. This is why talking about it has mattered. Trying to screen myself might have prevented people from helping me when I needed it most.

Human Resources: as teachers we have a union (yay!) and a certain number (9) of allowable sick days. I used 2 last year. None in my first 4 years. I get that some people scam the system, but we now have an 'Attendance Monitoring Program' where you get flagged for missing a certain number of days (not full days, but 'occurrences'), even if you haven't used up your allotted and allowed sick days. I hit the magic number, even though I was 'booking out' period 1 times, when I had no students to teach, during my own prep time, and arriving to teach period 2, right on time. I still have to sign out so that I'm not assigned a class coverage. Huge stress, time-suck, etc. But, now I get an email from some board office lady, telling me that I need to provide proof of my fertility status and that I'm under the care of a physician (which is handy because my attendance has documented evidence) – what sucks is that people who have had other forms of illness or loss might not. So HR gets to know about the inside of my body so they can 'support me' in not missing more work time, even though none of this has impacted my students – only my own time to prep. Can you tell I find this annoying?

I also tell students when it comes up.

"Do you and your wife want kids?

For sure!

Will you adopt?

Maybe, but for now we are trying to have some on our own."

And I did share news of our first miscarriage with students because they are smart – they can tell when their teacher who is usually beaming and upbeat is 'not okay' and gets called down to the office and disappears for two days. I want them to have knowledge, not to be frightened, to know I'm sad, but I'll be okay. For the same reason that I would tell them my cat died and I'm sad about it, I tell them I've lost something and I might seem sad sometimes. What was important for me to tell them is that my sadness was temporary and that being there, teaching them, made me happy again. They are my recovery and happy place. They rose to the challenge.

For me, it's about authenticity. Honesty. Awareness. I humanize myself and share what real people go through, how people cope and what self-care looks like. It's okay to be sad and sometimes people need support. Honestly, it is remarkable how intuitive and thoughtful and real people can be if you let them have that opportunity. I don't tell people I don't want to tell and I set boundaries about what I'll entertain and won't. I generally welcome whatever questions people ask, because it takes bravery (or sometimes ignorance) to ask and curiosity is better than apathy. 

How do these convos and subsequent ones go? I get tons of personal questions, but I'm pretty open to talking about it because then at least people are talking about queerness and recognizing that this is going on. Like most things I talk about, that others could shy away from (for good reason), I try to walk in like a boss and be open, own it and educate. I know I run the risk of encountering shitty responses, or ignorance, but I don't think women who WANT to be able to talk about it should have to keep this under wraps. It should be something we can explore and set our own boundaries around. I totally understand why people are hesitant to share, it's emotional, vulnerable and nobody's business, but it's also something people make so many generalizations about because so few people feel empowered to talk about it – which leads to some of us suffering in silence and not getting support when we need it 🙂

This is just where I'm at, personally, right now. Thanks to the community of bloggers who make these conversations possible and who honour their own journey. I heart you all.

What questions, conversations, struggles do you have, hear about, want to talk about?

Anti-Bullying

Irony? Today, during anti-bullying week at my school, while walking to set up the LGBTQ 🏳️‍🌈 JEOPARDY board, I heard a kid (8 am) call another a fa$&@t , then the courageous, empowered students running the booth had to come get me from my class to deal with three boys heckling them with anti-gay slurs and swearing.

So proud of my students for being activists because AND in spite of this. One boy argues, it’s what I have been taught at home – to which a fabulous student replies: ‘I’m the same religion and I’m gay and a teenager and that is not what our belief is about – you can do better!’

We had a really good, eye-opening chat, he saw us as fellow humans and at the end he shook my hand and introduced himself. I feel so drained and demoralized by this constant slog uphill – but building bridges is tiring, so I guess it makes sense that I’m exhausted.

I asked one of the GSA kids, how do you get out of the crap feeling that lingers when this stuff happens, (since they always seem so cheerful)?

“I watch videos of the cutest otter that I follow on Instagram.”

Obviously. Bring on the cute animals. 🦓 🦔