Monday, November 9, 2015

Baby Girl's Birth Story

10-24-2015 Saturday
Baby Name As of Yet Unknown has arrived! She  is dozing on the boppy on my lap, Maile is watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for about the 8th time this week, Rosie and Matt are grocery shopping after Rosie’s double header soccer games-- last of the season. Oh-- I just heard the chain clinking on the gate- they’ve made it home.

I want to write down Baby’s birth story while it’s still fresh and visceral and hasn’t reduced itself to an outline…

So she was due October 12. Liz was here, with kids and husband in tow, staying down at my dad’s timeshare in Kapaa with a beautiful condo, a big TV, and a open-late pool that we swam at every day. Liz, with her experience as a doula and auntie status, was here to help with the birth, and especially to watch out for the girls, make sure they were in the right place, make sure they weren’t freaked out… so we waited and waited, spent nice time at their pool, sent their family off on little touristy adventures while we had spring break (clean all the things!!! Declutter and disinfect and discard!) and then when the girls went back to school, riding the bus back and forth and I stayed home and tried to think birth-giving thoughts. Every evening contractions would pick up a little, especially if I was walking around, and I would think, FINALLY HERE WE GO! And get all settled in, tidy the Birth Stuff Box, and then settle down for a sleep before things got really started. And then wake up the next morning with no labor, no action, nothing. It got discouraging. I wondered if I was mentally blocking myself-- I was REALLY REALLY anxious about giving birth (nobody die, nobody die, OMG what are my girls going to do without me, how would I ever survive if the worst happened...) But on the other hand, you can’t THINK your way out of a pregnancy. It HAS to come to an end. No amount of self-blame can dissolve the situation! So that’s what I was hanging on to….This has GOT to happen.

Around a week late, baby really started dropping, and I really was waddling around as I walked and walked and walked. A stranger at the soccer park said I looked like overripe fruit. Thank you stranger.

Liz and Andrew and cute boyos left on the 19th and-- still nothing. I tried everything: I tried red raspberry leaf tea, I tried evening primrose oil, I tried pineapple and spicy food -- one night it really seemed like something was happening and I turned off the “wake up, take the girls to school” alerts on my phone, but…. nope. Morning came and we stayed home, walked around to the new goats at the far end of the station, and the last remaining contractions dwindled to nothing. I told Keala at school that I was keeping the girls hostage at home until baby showed up.

I met with my midwife Sharon and we talked about my anxieties a bit-- she heard me out, just that don’t enjoy the pushing and I was kind of dreading the intensity and pain of labor. She checked me out-- I was already 4 cm dilated. It was encouraging to know that all of the false starts were doing something-- almost half-way dilated and no actual labor!

Day 10 overdue arrived -- Thursday night-- and I made an appointment with an acupuncturist. I was sufficiently spooked. I was having occasional nice contractions-- I had to actually whistle and blow through them-- so I had Matt drive me down the hill for my evening appointment. To my surprise, the acupuncture was more than I could handle. It was excruciating-- like getting hooked up to electric fencing. She said that was a good sign, it meant I was ready to give birth. While I sat in the recliners with skinny needles in my hands and legs, I had some brutally intense contractions. I was supposed to stay for an hour and a half, but I texted Matt and said, Ack I can’t handle it come and get me!! He did. I made a panicked break for it.

It’s funny-- things that haven’t bothered or scared me in the past-- the gyn exam, the acupuncture needles, my flu and Dtap shots, labor-- have been completely emotionally overwhelming for me. Hormones, man. Hell of a drug.

That night, after we got back, I blew and whistled like a bomb dropping through increasingly serious contractions. I fell asleep on the couch watching Qi and Whose Line is it Anyway clips on Youtube. At some point Matt went to bed and turned out the lights. At about 1:30 I woke up with actual contractions. Matt came out and paced around with me-- I called the midwife Kelly right away-- she’s the young intern who they’re letting be lead on everything-- sit the long hours of early labor, do the after care visits-- and she came up right away.

And by the time she was there, things were already a little weird, and my recollection is already in an altered state, through a weird shattered timeless lens. Later talking it over with Sharon, she pointed out that labor time isn’t linear-- it’s a different dimension like a maze- that’s very true or me. Events seem weirdly stacked in time-- 3-D rather than a timeline-- I was joking and shivering and listening to music all at once.

It was dark-- just the kitchen light on-- the fans going, the girls sleeping in my room. Matt put on Metamora then Sileas then Nightnoise-- each album seemed very short. He read our list of names out loud. I started shivering and shaking right away. I still was dreading actually delivering, so I was battling myself. I knew if I stood up and walked, changed position, relaxed, I could bring on strong contractions and I could get this over with. So I did a bit-- got on my knees on the floor-- Matt put out the waterproof mattress cover and pillows on the livingroom floor so I could kneel comfortably and lean forward onto the couch.

Then I would wimp out, back away from it, lock my knees, and curl up on my left side and on the couch and just wish for the whole thing to be done, and shiver violently under piles of blankets.

Matt was absolutely my anchor-- if he was right there with me he could bring me into calm and focus. If he was out of reach, I got all out of control and screamy. I leaned on him and needed him right there. At some point I looked up and Colleen-- the other midwife-- and Nicollette-- the secretary/birth photographer--were there! I walked around a bit and experienced weirdly lucid moments where I joked and chatted and laughed and thought, weird, I’m fine. Is this done? And then-- wham. Completely out of my brain again.

I was feeling for the first time the slightest little desire to bear down-- I’ve never felt that before. I decided to go and hide on the couch. During some mega contractions I gave experimental little pushes. Kelly got ready to check my progress but I couldn’t face it-- I knew if she did, it would be too intense for me to handle. So they left me alone. Colleen, from somewhere in the dim room, said I could stop blowing and moaning upwards through the contractions and could start bearing down with a grunt and low growls. It was very easy to obey her voice-- It gave me something to do, to focus on.  I gave it a try and -- oh #$%^.

As soon as I started pushing, I knew I was really in it. I was still mostly on my side on the couch, with my knees weirdly locked, hips angled awkwardly to the left. Kelly was at my feet, Matt got the girls up and they came out-- I gave a mighty push and my water broke with a deeply disturbing POP sound and unnerving sensation. I could feel the head! Maile started to cry and left, I gave one more huge push with Kelly saying slowly slowly slowly keep going! and the head was out already! I felt it down there, little bumpy mushed features, and gave another mighty push and out came the shoulders and there she was! I was still lost a bit but I heard Kelly say It’s a girl! She put her on my stomach -- all purple and slimy and bloody and flailing-- in blankets and she snorked and coughed and spluttered-- Matt cut the cord and then Kelly tilted her forward on me and rubbed her back vigorously till her breathing was better-- I babbled and babbled--later I asked what the first thing I said was-- Colleen said it was, “oh you’re so beautiful!” Baby immediately tried to vigorously suck on her arm, and then latched on to me and snuffled and snuggled…and it was 4:58am, Friday 10/23/2015.

The rest of the morning blurred quietly into dawn. Eventually they weighed the baby-- 8 lbs 9 oz and 19” long, they gave baby her vitamin K shot. That fractured time sensation faded a little… Matt made breakfast for everybody-- beans and eggs and toast and coffee, Colleen started a load of laundry, Colleen and Nicollette left, Kelly stayed for a while to make sure everything was normal and talked me through a pile of paperwork with instructions that I retained zero of, and then there we were! Just us. All at home safe and cozy and well! The girls watched shows, Matt went and milked the goats, I carefully stood up in my realigned skeleton and felt hips and coccyx and sternum crack into their unfamiliar original spots and tied a sarong tight around my wonderfully empty but very sore belly to keep from giving in to the weird feeling of my guts actually falling out… Oddly, my ribs hurt worse than everything else-- I could feel them bending back into place. Very unnerving.

It was wonderful to just… be at home. To come slowly back into time and  space. I took naps. I drank cider and martinellis. We went to bed early and baby woke up and nursed every two hours and pooped spectacular meconium poops and was unbelievably small and soft-- impossibly soft skin and hair, wrinkly little hands and feet, tiny red bum…

And today-- Rosie played her double-header soccer game in the wilting heat, Maile and baby and I napped and watched shows and I creaked around and baby’s name continued to elude us...what a glorious blessing to have arrived safely at this day!

October 30, 2015 Friday
Now it’s a week later--I can’t adequately hook my gratitude-- it’s too big. It runneth over the confines of the ceiling, of our bodies. Her perfect little fingers-- my thumb fills her whole palm-- and toes the size of lentils. Her intense focus and sweet snuffling snorting and growling, her enthusiastic nursing and sudden quiet focus, her random panting breaths, the rise and fall of her tiny ribcage-- she hardly cries, she just snuffles and wriggles and yawns and growls and roars and mutters and cooes and drifts suddenly to sleep, blinking unfocused, arching her back... She inches and squirms around, flips herself over to find boob, grins dopily as she drifts off, dribbles milk, poops mightily.

Her piko stump came off already-- her piko is still a bit oozy and crusty-- the other morning when it came off I squawked, “There’s a hole in my baby!!” Maile thought this was hilarious, and cackling showed me her piko-- “Ack there’s a hole in my kid!”

The girls are so soft with the baby-- they coo at her. She’s so soft! she’s so cute!l Look at her fuzz!  They take showers right after school so they can snuggle her without me freaking out about nasty school germs and the cartoonish clouds of dust they seem to bring home from school every day...  

And her name has settled! Amelia Likolehua Louise! I think of her mostly as Baby… and then Baby Liko… ooooh I could eat her up, those little vestigial legs...

A week from birth and we’ve settled into our life so pleasantly. This has been the easiest recovery yet. Goodness, I don’t have words to express my gratitude. I should chant it or sing it or draw it… Praise for the miracle of each simple shimmering new day!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Talking the Baby Out

So my due date has come and gone, my belly is round and starting to drop, strangers on the street feel a kind of tribal ownership of my body-- patting my belly and shouting across the farmer's market at me-- You Look Very Pregnant!!! Why yes. Yes I do.  I love that pregnancy DOES connect me with a universal human experience-- everyone is interested and excited and maybe freaked out or pitying-- but I'm not alone in this. It's special but it's universal, too.

I still haven't spent much time thinking about what's happening next-- I worked like a crazy thing up to fall break and through it-- haranguing students about last-minute assignments, grading, crossing my fingers that things would go smoothly over the next two quarters while I take off from work-- and I tell people that working full-time through this pregnancy saved my life. Yes, I was bone-tired, but I never had the time or energy to feel sorry for myself. Pregnancy is not a malady like a nasty cold-- the more you stop and pamper it, the worse it gets. It's better as an exercise in harnessing your will: mind over matter. All day at school I could run, jump, put out fires, start others, bargain, problem solve, leap around like a mad thing-- the second I was on my way home my brain was replaced with a loud empty hum and I zombies my way through every evening. But when it's show time, IT'S SHOW TIME, BABY!

So having the week off for fall break was weirdly------ a let down. What do I do now? Just relax? Just wait? How about.... organize all the files? Clean out my bedroom? Sort through my old teaching supplies?? Run around and around the yellow wallpaper???

The girls are back in school, I am getting texts from coworkers and friends and family-- No baby YET?? Nope. Nothin'.

This baby is making no signs of being in a hurry... my last kid was like this, too-- came moseying onto the scene an idyllic 6 days late with a gentle slow labor build-up and then a quick emergence into the world... I had to go back and reread what I wrote about her birth. It was a really lovely experience-- and the birth of my first kid was really wonderful, too-- intense, but totally happy.

Last night, though, this thought hooked my brain: I'm getting in my own way. I'm hung up. I'm terrified.

I consulted with my sister-- she's been here for a week already, staying with her husband and kids in a classy little condo on the beach in Kapaa. We've been happily availing ourselves of her pool and making pancakes together. She's been patient, but the reason she's here is really to be a help at the birth-- to make sure my big kids are alright and just keep things going smoothly. She's trained as a doula and knows this stuff. She agreed-- birth is intensely psychological. Birth PTSD is a real thing. And yes, you can absolutely get in your own way. And even though I had really great births-- I feel like going into labor is like jumping off a really high cliff into unknown water. You'll probably be okay, but it's scary as hell. I feel like I'm standing on that edge with terrible vertigo, like the last time I tried to hike in Kokee and had to inch out of there half-sitting on the slick sheer path and wait in the parking lot for everyone else to be done. I can't. I cannot. My fears have gained power. Things that used to be easy-- hiking, climbing tall things, jumping into the deep end, going on the roller coaster-- now they're impossible.

But babies-- they just get born! There's no other way out, it's a one way ticket! I keep trusting that and waiting for labor to just start. But are my fears strong enough to be getting in my way? And if they are, how can I psych myself into letting this baby get born?

I took the girls for a nice long walk around the farm tonight-- we said howdy to the family of cute goats-- Mamas Rosie-goat, Maile-goat, Matt-goat and babies Jo and Bexter-- then veered off the path toward the reservoir, around the coconut grove (we noticed dozens of fallen coconuts across the grass like a giant's easter-egg hunt and avoided going directly under the heavily burdened trees) and then back up the steep hill around the bananas, the cinnamon and toward the grapefruit. The cats followed us all the way-- a little poofy about the tail and overly alert as they always are when they leave their immediate territory. As we walked I thought, "down, down, down!" and "low, low, low!" and tried to relax and sway and envision the baby creeping lower and lower in my pelvis. I had lots of nice little contractions and imagined that strong womb-muscle pulling and pushing everything just right. The big girls put their mouths on my stomach and mumble-shouted, "COME OUT BABY SO WE CAN SNUGGLE YOUUU" and announced their plans to dress the baby as a bat or a Japanese tree spirit (from Mononoke Hime) for halloween, to match their costumes.

Now I'm back home, the big girls are in bed listening to an audiobook, Matt is balancing a glass of wine on his stomach and reading about John Cabot on his phone. The contractions have stilled down to nothing and we are back to a tense waiting...

I wonder if my willful ignoring of this pregnancy and general hand-wavy-ness about upcoming major life changes is getting in my way. We don't have names picked, we don't know the gender, we don't have a crib or a really proper spot to put the baby. I figured that babies start out so tiny and with their needs so specific and all-consuming, there was not much to do to get ready. Sort of like the time when a hurricane was coming to the big island and we bought a case of KitKats. Because the scope of destruction is so unfathomable, there's not much you can do to get ready.

But maybe this "It's-a-comin'" attitude is getting in my way.

So baby, this is me intentionally saying, "come out!" I want you! I want to meet you and name you and figure out who you are! Our family will change forever and in amazing and unguessable ways. Your birth will be intentional, loving, and safe. We will embrace every minute of it, let the process happen, imagine everything working perfectly and together to get us both safely through to the other side, both transformed from one state of existence to another.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sex Ed, Pono Choices, and Me

Warning: Contains NSFW language in the context of describing students' Sex Ed Questions!

For years I've been disturbed, amused and shocked by comments my students make about sexuality. I've occasionally had to bring my English classes to a screeching halt to talk about consent or sexual identity or even basic anatomy.

A couple of years ago, our school was able to participate in a pilot pregnancy and STI prevention program called Pono Choices. This program is funded by the University of Hawaii, and co-created by Planned Parenthood and Alu Like which is a nonprofit for empowering Native Hawaiians. The social studies teacher taught the curriculum, and I saw an immediate improvement with my students. They gained new confidence talking about their bodies, sexuality, and the tools they would use to accomplish their goals.

This is a big deal-- Every year we've had kids get pregnant either senior year or right after graduation. And considering that some years we only have ONE graduate, this is not a great track record. So to have a new generation of students with the knowledge and skills to CHOOSE pregnancy rather than have it just happen to them? That is awesome.

So it's been a couple of years since we've offered health and I could see a big difference in the kids who hadn't been through the Pono Choices program yet-- they couldn't handle even seeing the S-E-X word on job applications and would melt down if I said the word "Period" in the context of "Every Sentence Needs A." The social studies teacher who taught it last time has moved down to Kindergarten (where she is teaching my 5 year old things like "Turning the flag upside down means somebody did something REALLY REALLY BAD!" and "The Americans locked the queen in prison and stole our mountain!!" and "GMO is poison!!!") So I volunteered to get the training and teach the curriculum.

This meant I made the short trek to Oahu for a two day workshop where the program creators started at the beginning and READ THROUGH THE WHOLE DAMN CURRICULUM AT US. Complete with hokey scripted moments of praise: "Thanks for your participation!" and acting out all of the games and activities with a bizarre double brain-- as adult health teachers and with a weird student role-playing mindset. As far as excruciating Professional Developments go, this was medieval torture chamber, please draw and quarter me already level misery. TWO SOLID DAYS.

But it was effective-- I left that workshop with a VERY (holy mary mother of god SO) thorough understanding of the program. If they had just handed me the curriculum materials and said, "have at it!" I never would have bothered.

And the curriculum is very solid-- it touches briefly and clearly on anatomy, puberty, what behaviors can transmit disease, how to prevent pregnancy and disease, what makes for healthy relationships, how to communicate, how to set goals... really all very nice and simple and clear. So nice and simple and clear that I felt totally fine having my 5 and 8 year old IN the classroom on the couple days that they were sick and had no place else to go. Really, there is almost nothing in this curriculum that I haven't already introduced to my little kids via daily life on a farm, answering their questions honestly as they come up, and through leaving books like these around the house:
I say all this because the parents of Hawaii completely lost their marbles about this program. COMPLETELY. I had people block me on Facebook for saying that I'd seen really positive results in my students' attitudes towards their own bodies and sexuality in general, and that if anything, this program doesn't go far enough to explain the things kids need to know BEFORE becoming sexually active!

Parents' tearful pearl-clutching seems insane to me when at the MIDDLE school across the street from us, there are ALWAYS pregnant 6th graders. That's 11 and 12 year olds. Pregnant. Every year, in each new group. That means that there MANY others who are having sex. So as cute as it is for a parent to say, "Oh, MY child is an innocent, this is too much information for MY child," I'm sorry but no. Your child IS complicit. Your child might not tell you, your child probably lacks the vocabulary to tell you what's going on, or if you're so bloody squeamish about the topic, they are going to be UNABLE to tell you what's going on with them and their friends at school. 

The spooky thing with kids and sex in Hawaii is this wall of silence. Kids don't know how to prevent pregnancy, and parents never want to have the awkward conversations, partly because every parent thinks THEIR kid is immune. So Hawaii has one of the highest STI rates in the country. 

I knew, before I even started the curriculum, that I was going to get a lot of questions from parents-- especially of the new 7th graders whose parents are still getting used to the Brave New World of middle school. All parents have an opportunity to opt their kids out of some or all the program, but only once they've come to the parent orientation night. 

The parent night is as carefully scripted as the rest of the curriculum-- a slideshow, a script, and detailed handouts for the parents-- and I take them on a whirl-wind tour of all of the controversial parts of the curriculum. Yes, we define sex as "Vaginal, Oral, or Anal Sex"-- because this is how disease can be transmitted. And more importantly, because there are lots of kids who think that anal sex is SAFER that vaginal sex! Yes, there are scenarios where kids are asked to identify traits of healthy or unhealthy relationships and some of those scenarios have examples with same-sex couples. Because guess what. Same-sex couples exist in middle school and in life. And the attributes of healthy or unhealthy relationships are the same regardless of how you mix and match the genitalia.  And Yes, during the curriculum, we demonstrate how to use a condom, with great solemnity and very little giggling. The program gave me 30 "wooden demonstrators" and the students, and parents at orientation, go step by step through the process of checking condom expiration dates, opening the package, making sure it's right-side-up, pinching the tip, rolling the thing down, removing it and throwing it in the garbage. The whole demonstration is scripted to be deadly dull and factual, rather like John Cleese. And ultimately, really really useful information. A few parents didn't want their kids doing the condom demonstration, but in the end almost all parents felt their concerns were met and they were comfortable with their kids going through the program.

And really, that's as it should be. A carefully scripted curriculum,  with medically accurate information, with a strong grounding in Hawaiian cultural values, that over and over again emphasizes that ALL sexual behavior has an element of risk, and that abstinence is a great option, and that the important thing is making conscious choices in accordance with your values-- this is an awesome message. 

So now the class is done-- and I've had a couple of days to think about it. The kids really did gain maturity and confidence talking about sex and pregnancy and puberty, and they were able to clear up a lot of misunderstandings and weird back-of-the-school-bus beliefs and fears. They made some beautiful products-- amazing hand-carved double-hulled canoes to represent the community effort it takes to grow up and meet your goals, and gorgeous braided leis to represent the values they believe in. I'm proud of them and their work!

I'm still a little shaken by some things, though. I'm shaken by the parent who came to me in tears half-way through the program and said that "This is all too heavy for my daughter, so I told her she doesn't have to do your homework." I was confused-- I found a copy of the homework so she could show me specifically what she was uncomfortable with. It was an assignment to make a model of a double-hulled canoe with your family, and while you're making it, the kid is supposed to ask the parent, "who talked to you about puberty when you were growing up?" This question was so painful for the mom, she couldn't have the conversation. Surprisingly, this parent let her daughter finish the class.

I'm bothered by the weird over-exposure and under-education I saw with the boys. These kids-- yes YOUR PRECIOUS LITTLE ELEVEN YEAR OLD BOYS-- have seen pornography that I didn't know existed until I was an adult. Like, till last year basically. They have seen bestiality and anal sex and all kinds of acts that are definitely NOT part of most peoples' sex lives. Their expectations and desires have already been shaped by this over-exposure. So the round-cheeked sweet kid who asks me in all earnestness if a girl will squirt when you finger her is THE SAME KID who thinks that women have just one hole, that the baby grows in the stomach (that's what my mom says!) and that women are just a mouth to cloacha tube, rather like the republic lawmaker who thought you could swallow a camera for gyno exams.  It was dizzying to have such different questions. Porn is a big issue and a question to ponder for another day, but I have just a general hunch that such early and intense exposure just is not good for growing brains and developing psycho-sexual selves. 

I'm unhappy with what the program didn't include at all-- the elephant in the room that is the WHY of sex. This is the kids' big concern, and their beliefs about why humans have sex were the most disturbing part of the class for me. The boys believed that sex is something they have to TRY and get, that it's owed to them, and they have to trick people into giving it to them. The girls believed the creepy inverse-- sex is something that they have to avoid at all costs, protect themselves from, and only when absolutely necessary use a bargaining chip. No where across either of the classes (because yes I separated the boys and the girls) was there the belief that people have sex because it feels good and it's fun and it makes people happy. Sex, as far as they could tell, is something very grim. A rite of passage or a looming threat. 

I had to go off-script to address, briefly and clearly, some of these gaps. I especially wanted the kids to understand consent-- learning skills to say No is fine-- but I feel like it's more important for everyone to learn to listen for YES. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Kids Write Stuff and That's Good: Literacy as an Empowerment Tool for Indigenous Education

A lovely woman from Kamehameha Schools came to chat with me and my coworkers about literacy in Hawaiian education. She reminded me of my college professors in the schools of education: chunky jewelry, clean shoes, briefcase, steady theoretical competence. "Literacy is simple!" she says calmly, and shows us a beautiful portfolio full of functional literacy items from her own life: thank you cards, passport forms, christmas letters...

I was lucky enough to have really stellar professors in my Brigham Young University English Teacher program-- especially Sirpa Grierson with her early-adoption of web-based technologies for literature instruction, and Deborah Dean, who has been a real pioneer in the field of genre based literacy. So the little PD at school this week didn't really touch on anything novel, but still. It was an interesting reminder to take a step back (as if you were someone who wore nice shoes and carried a briefcase and got to think calmly about education instead of actually having to Bloody Well Do It All Day) and consider what literacy is, what it does, how it works....

So here is the little result of her visit that day, and her prompt to consider communication:

In Hawaii, I think a lot about spectrums of communication. Every time we reach out to another human, we are navigating sliding scales like a complex sound-engineer's mix board-- of purpose and intent, format and context, audience and witnesses, gender, age, race, and sex. Hawaii's communication especially is multi dimensional-- not just a spectrum of formal to information communication, but multiple axes of mode and purpose. These complicated social calculations are done almost unconsciously.

Even from an early age, students move through that complexity fluently-- entering and exiting pidgin or Hawaiian or formal English or text-speak easily depending on the need-- or in Common Core Speech-- depending on the audience and purpose. They read myriad contextual and identity clues to gauge what exact timber and tone and lexicon is most appropriate for the task. I love being an observer of my students when they interact with community members, and the way they can code-switch so completely. Ordering food at a poke counter, introducing themselves to kupuna who volunteer to make poi, asking the YA librarian for introductions, volunteering at the Powwow-- all of these different tasks stimulate transformations in the style and mode of my students' communication. It's not all rosy, though-- self-awareness can jam empowered self-expression-- and the stigma or fear of mismatching the dialect to the occasion is stressful.

But as far as what I believe and what I try to communicate to my students in class and when we're in the community, all communication is ultimately empowering. Students being able to slide into the dialectally appropriate mode is the highest kind of success.

But back to my prompt:

What is writing?
What is empowerment?
And what is a tool for empowerment?

Writing is any kind of writing-- any form, any genre, any purpose. I accept marginalia and latrinalia and tumblr-esque keyboard smashes and trails of hashtags and emoji. I accept scrawled reminders on palms and gothic tattoo letters scraped into forearms. Writing is self-expression and passionate and also deadly-dry-- columns and rows and sums and averages. It can emerge effortlessly as a prayer or get bashed out of you only through hours of tedious research, revision, pain, blood, constriction and sweat.

So empowerment? Does that mean a sense of entitlement? Yes but in the best way-- not in the sense we often here where entitled means spoiled and arrogant-- but entitled as in-- given a name-- given a role. Endowed with authority and validity. It's important-- especially for marginalized people-- girls, people working in a second language, people whose ethnic, racial cultural or religious identity makes them a social target. It's the belief that you have the right to take up space. Your words deserve to be heard, your letters deserve to be marked on the paper.

So how is writing a tool for empowerment? I'm reminded of the simple Archimedean machines-- wedges, levers, wheel and axel, screw, inclined plane, and pulleys. Language-- specifically writing-- can be that sharp wedge which divides the unbreakable boulder along the weak lay-lines. And lever-words can lift impossible weights, can screw into the impermeable depths, and heave you against gravity to impossible heights. Language-- but especially writing-- a stab at permanence that it is-- can be that wedging, lifting, shattering ideas.

Writing allows us to place our small marks of permanence on the world-- allows our words to emerge from our minds and linger slightly longer than they would have if only inscribed in breath. We can float our thoughts onto papers and they will continue thinking themselves for moments and moments after our minds and mouths are clear of them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Minds about Two Bodies

I'm about 5 weeks away from giving birth-- really a month and a day from my due date, but you never want to hex it by shaving days off your full 40 week sentence.

My belly is profound, my bosom is bounteous. I groan and creak when I stand up or resettle in my chair. I require a phalanx of pillows to sleep (in the small of my back, under my neck but not touching my shoulders, under my left armpit and between my knees, no blanket but yes a sheet, but not covering my feet or arms) and even then I wake up to pee, to drink, to fret, to check facebook, to restart the soporific audiobook, to drink water, to swat mosquitos...

My belly is moon-round and lightly marbled with new stretchmarks-- pearly little striations. I rub them daily with coconutty lotion. My girls sniff at me and grimace-- you smell like baby belly!

This pregnancy-- I want to capture it before it's over. The baby bumps and rolls and stretches up under my ribcage-- sometimes jabs a sharp ankle or heel outward and makes a hard tense bump in my skin, until relaxing, rolling over and snuggling down somewhere deep in my pelvis. I feel deep hiccoughs-- almost in my tailbone. The other day I felt a weird scratching on what felt like the top of my cervix. Sure enough, there was a little blood-- baby's sharp little fingernails poking at the exit.

My hair has grown like mad-- 8 inches in 8 months, curly, thick. My fingernails grow too-- and I've managed not to chew them off for two whole months. My skin is radiant and I feel... gorgeous. I love the way I look in tight little dresses that show off the full curve of my belly, and my impressive cleavage. Oddly, I haven't gained much weight during this pregnancy-- just 10 pounds. With my other two I gained a frightening amount of weight-- 20 or 30 pounds! With this one I'm eating what I feel like-- which in this oppressive heat (it's a record for Kauai this year-- most miserably hot and horrifying September ever) is basically just fruit, and sparkling water with ice in it. With the occasional steak. And all of the purple sweet potatoes in the world. But I don't feel overly burdened with extra weight-- my ankles and wrists are still bony, as always.

I'm running around like a mad thing-- I wake up bleary and whimpering every day, but we all get ourselves to the school, and then performance mode kicks in and I have 500 questions from my teenage students, and to-do lists from fellow teachers, and ominous follow-up meetings with administration, and I have to move from classroom to classroom lugging projectors, posters, art supplies; and teach differentiated English to 27 kids ages 11 to 17, at mixed reading levels from 1st grade to 9th. It involves a lot of me spinning around the classroom, consulting books, reading earnest whispered confessions and fledgling poetry.

I'm teaching sex-ed, too, which I find really gratifying, and a little hilarious with my tremendous belly.  The kids ask me questions-- things they've worried about since some older kid on the bus said something weird when they were 9. The boys are worried about performance: can you get stuck if you have sex? The girls are worried about violence: If you get drunk, will you get kidnapped and raped? One kid told me seriously that an outcome of having sex was doing drugs. "Because if you get kids it ruins your life and you'll wanna do drugs. That's why my mom said she does drugs anyway!" With questions like that, and these enormous conversations with these precious and malleable young people, I don't have any time to feel pregnancy discomfort.

This whole pregnancy has been a delight. A bitter-sweet delight, because I don't think I'll do this again.

In an alternate world, I had a pile of babies, one after another. Like a lady of the canyon, cats and babies round my feet, baking brownies, marbling paper for craft fairs, canning jellies. There's a part of me that really would have loved that.

But it's harder than it seems. And being a mother-- I love it. It is the great treasure and purpose of my life-- but I also felt like I could easily shatter and die-- succumb to depression and loneliness.

And that's the crux of it. Pregnancy, birth, parenting-- it's both amazing and awful. I remember a few days after my first daughter was born-- I was standing in the kitchen wearing only the hospital-issued disposable pad-panties for the steady blood flow with an ice pack tucked inside for the swollen stitches and a cold wet towel on my engorged boobs-- and I was writing an email to my family telling them how perfectly happy I was, how I felt great, how everything was awesome and I was ready to do it again right away! I wasn't lying-- I WAS that blissed out. I was also in terrible pain and emotionally shaken like an old doll in a dog's mouth.

And the bliss and delight of taking care of little babies-- there's nothing as magical as their tiny hands, their eyes as they gaze deeply into yours and grin as they nurse, and dribble milk into their creasy fat necks... Also there's nothing as nightmarish as the irrational screech of a baby who hates the carseat and is trapped and you can't stop and pull over because that will just prolong the journey and you have to drive on, your shoulders hunched around your ears, your blood pressure sparking stars, and fifteen new forehead lines chiseled into your face.

And when they're bigger-- they're such beauties, such geniuses, such fairy-creatures of pure power, magic, and loveliness. And when you shout at them, slam the door, startle them, ignore them, betray them, bore them, disappoint them-- it's a terrible chasm of failure yawning before you. When my big tall 8 year old comes and finds me to snuggle and I smell her sunshiny skull-- bliss. When the 5 year old draws you a card covered in carefully jewel-colored spirals--- I could eat them up I love them so. Also some nights I barely manage a "go brush your teeth and choose an audiobook..." and that's the parenting for the day.

This pregnancy has been a Janus thing from the beginning. I desperately wanted another baby-- felt the absence of that baby like a loss. But I felt so afraid and unsure. It was the moment I realized that my reasons for NOT having another one were weaksauce: Traveling is easy with two big ones! Eating out is simple! We all fit comfortably in my little car! And my reason for having another one-- that my kids are the one pure and unadulterated source of joy and delight in my life-- was bigger than the fears.

And then actually being pregnant-- throwing up in the park, at the urine-reeking base of an ironwood tree when I couldn't make it to the bathroom, being tired down to the bones-- so zapped at the end of school each day that I couldn't speak or think or even feel my face as I drove home. I couldn't tell the girls stories-- my mind was a cottony mush. I couldn't interact with my friends or keep up with social events-- I was just too tired to do anything beyond get to school, get home, procure non-offensive food, and listen to BBC Radio Sherlock Holmes.

But then I got to hear the baby's heartbeat-- and I cried. My midwife laughed with me-- "You'd think it's your first time!" But my happiness at having this baby just bubbled up in those tears. The big girls watch me intently every time we visit the midwife now and report: "Mom, your face is turning red! Are you gonna cry?" I usually do.

And now, a handful of weeks left. I'm in the 9th month. If you pay attention from across the room you can see the baby rolling around.  I love having the baby safely in there-- tucked away. Transportable, cozy, warm, clean, full, happy... I am in no rush to get this baby on the outside. This precious short time will be done, probably forever for me. I can't stand to mark the "lasts"-- the last kicks, the last braxton hicks, the last labor... Even while dreading the pain and fear of delivery, I am heartbroken to say, "never again."

Maybe in that other life I would have had the cocooned safety and security to have all those heaps of happy fat babies. But then there are many other lives that lie abandoned in the possibilities of the past that I can thinking about with both regret and relief.

For now, I'll just enjoy the incredible and strange treasure of this moment-- this pregnant pause.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Poems that I Want In My Brain

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 
--W B Yeats

A Little Tooth

Thomas Lux1946

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone.  It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail.  And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing.  You did, you loved, your feet
are sore.  It’s dusk.  Your daughter’s tall.
Egg By C.G. Hanzlicek
I’m scrambling an egg for my daughter. “Why are you always whistling?” she asks. “Because I’m happy.” And it’s true, Though it stuns me to say it aloud; There was a time when I wouldn’t Have seen it as my future. It’s partly a matter Of who is there to eat the egg: The self fallen out of love with itself Through the tedium of familiarity, Or this little self, So curious, so hungry, Who emerged from the woman I love, A woman who loves me in a way I’ve come to think I deserve, Now that it arrives from outside me. Everything changes, we’re told, And now the changes are everywhere: The house with its morning light That fills me like a revelation, The yard with its trees That cast a bit more shade each summer, The love of a woman That both is and isn’t confounding, And the love Of this clamor of questions at my waist. Clamor of questions, You clamor of answers, Here’s your egg.
Living in the Body
by Joyce Sutphen
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
Body is a thing you have to carry
from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same
skin when you look in the mirror, and the
same creaky knee when you get up from the
floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and
costly—better to leave it as it is.
Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have
seen others do it, others who were once like you,
living inside their pile of bones and
flesh, smiling at you, loving you,
leaning in the doorway, talking to you
for hours and then one day they
are gone. No forwarding address.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Translation Problems

The other day I was talking to someone, a transplant from the mainland, who works here as a facilitator-- she was telling me about her work in different organizations, and how entrenched people can be in their feelings about ideas, and how tricky it can be to untangle some of those interpersonal knots. I mentioned that with school we've had facilitators come in to lay western-style groundrules and accomplish western-style goals, and that we've also had Hawaiian ho'oponopono. She was curious about it-- how does it work? What is it like?

I told her about my experience, how it went for hours and hours, starting immediately after school and carrying on until nearly midnight, what the alaka'i' did-- his role seemed similar to the mediator's role-- providing space for everyone to say their part, to be heard.  In my limited experience, it didn't seem that there were set scripts to follow, although every person was expected to speak, and everyone, as we went around the enormous circle, expressed their gratitude for each other, and apologized for their part in the difficulties we were addressing. I said, "We stayed until everyone felt heard." When we left, the alaka'i told us that now it was finished, that he had to leave it in the past and move forward.

But I was unsatisfied with my own explanation. It was inadequate-- for two major reasons. One, I don't know that much about it. Yes, I've participated-- yes, I read Mary Kawena Pukui's description of what it means in Nana I Ke Kumu, but my understanding is shallow.  I've attended Mass once or twice but I would never feel qualified to explain its significance to someone who had never been. I felt like I should add the caveat-- but don't take MY word for it...

The other problem with my explanation was my language. I kept slipping into analogues. The Alaka'i is like the mediator! The Ho'oponopono is cathartic! The groundrules are established! But all of these analogues are inadequate and oversimplify with comparison. I mean, they're fine for short-hand, but an Alaka'i is not a mediator-- the roles are very different and can't be conflated. The Alaka'i would be offended and distressed to be called a mediator or a facilitator. It's just... not that.

When I apply familiar American terms to Hawaiian practices, I flatten the practices. This is why practicing the culture-- and passing along the culture-- with the language, is so important. There are terms in Hawaiian that are specific to these activities, that set it apart from anything that can be performed in English. This is why I feel that the Hawaiian language IS an important part of understanding Hawaii and participating in life here. Because relatable explanations in English just can't get to the heart of the matter.