the time in between bath and bed, and the ROI of parenting

Bear with me here, I have like 20 minutes to write this (but it's a new practice in unfiltered writing).

Joel gives Bowie her baths, as part of our carefully constructed and always tenuous "share the work" agreement. In a not too uncommon, unplanned twist of events, I supervised the child bath. I usually distract myself by cleaning the sink, scrubbing my makeup brushes, or playing with how to create a cut crease on a hooded eye.

If I don't occupy myself with these things, I'll reach for my phone - which I do try to avoid. I hate the idea of a picture Bowie's forming in her head of her mother with a device always in front of her face, but it is what it is. I'm over judging myself for it...which is entirely different than giving up the fight. But that's a different blog.

Tonight, she caught my attention because, in the interim between the last bath I supervised and tonight's bath...a few weeks, a month maybe?...she could completely submerge her head in the water and hold her breath for five seconds.

It shocked me because, just this last summer, she would barely even put her face in the water, much less have the skill and agency to do it herself.

And in the 'in between' time of the evening (the time where Joel is reading Bowie stories and I am just finishing up the dishes, lighting the twilight candles, and pouring myself another glass) all my thoughts from the day come rushing at me. Today, one of those thoughts swimming in the sea of political murk and hope was the ROI of parenting.

For those of you lucky people who have never worked in a corporate setting, ROI means return on investment...the reward, the sign that all the rigor you put forward and risk you took in the beginning of your endeavor is starting to pay off, and your back to making money instead of shelling it out. (Disclaimer: this may be a reductive definition, I sure as hell am not spend my in between time opening up a tab and looking up ROI on Wikipedia...I do that shit all day long for real work).

The ROI of parenting...

Bowie's drawing after watching the Women's March on Washington.

It's odd how good I felt about Bowie dunking her head in the bath water, like the super smug kind of good. Yep, I am shelling out money and time for swim lessons because someone told me that responsible, healthy, enlightened parents teach their kids how to swim...and here I am seeing a total return on that.

She's making tangible, provable progress toward a goal of becoming another amphibious human.

It's working! I am winning at parenting. She won't drown!

It felt especially good because she drove me crazy today - we've hit the sassy phase, plus she's playing with all kinds of learned helplessness that triggers me. Today of all days, I was grasping for ways my parenting is "working." The swimming thing felt good. Was there more ways I was winning?

And then I stopped short at that cold question. Was I really looking for an ROI on something as unquantifiable as a relationship between mother and child?

Damn you, age of reason! (FIST)
And oh thank you, age of reason. (SIGH). But that's a different blog.

There is very little data or feedback in parenting. And in a society that...I'll let a friend explain it:

...ours is a society that honors and celebrates the mind {the masculine, intellect, drive, mental toughness, and so on}, but neglects and, often times, rejects the sweet balance that the heart provides {the feminine, empathy, compassion, strength through vulnerability, introspection, creativity, and so on}."

Yeah, in that kind of society - I have to remember to invite the feminine voice along too. To ask my heart what it thinks of my parenting, too...since it has such a different set of data points. 

Bowie's not going to give me proof because she's not an experiment. She's not here to teach me how to be a better parent or help me undo the damage done to me. That's my job. 

She's not here for any other purpose than to live out her soul's work. I hope to be one of the people clearing the runway for her to do it. 

Year in photos, 2016

Year in Photos 2016 by candace-morris

I usually publish this video slideshow of the year on New Year's Day. But this time, it took me a bit longer. I don't think that was an accident, either. I think the truth is that 2016 broke my heart in so many ways on so many levels, and I didn't want to go through the good stuff; I didn't want my mind to be changed; I just wanted 2016 to be the fuck over.

But every single time I create one of these slideshows, I relive every memory, every small moment that - when captured - seems insignificant. But set to music and bookmarked by many other small moments - each minute becomes so damn beautiful.

I'm so thankful to be alive. To have Joel and Bowie. To have a community of friends that I would die for. To have family who knows me. To have money for big and little things. To have freedom to shave my head if I want to.

So this is my peace offering to 2016. May she rest in peace.


The pure pleasure of just trying

I've just returned from my first ever hip-hop dance class. My body is so deliciously tired, used, and stronger somehow. I'm so drowsy, I can barely type. I don't remember the last time I've ever been so body tired ( I'm lying. LABOR!).

I've suffered a dance-less existence for too long. Every therapist I've ever seen has prescribed "dance more!" in just about every session.

The desire for a dark dance floor and loud (but just the right kind of) music quickens my heartbeat like it used to when I'd spot the guy(s) I had a crush on in college. It's that brand new, unbridled, unused joy bubble reserved for novel experiences that slam your awareness into NOW.

I felt that rush of excitement this morning while walking to do some work at a coffee shop and thinking about class tonight. As I strolled along the familiar street, I contemplated that rare quickening, the joy only accessible to me when I dance. Absolutely no other time in no other circumstance can I tap into this particular, specific kind of joy.

I think people assume that because I make a spectacle of myself on the dance floor, that I would not find this class uncomfortable or look awkward or that I would pick it up easily. Error.

As I stumbled though new movements (WTF hip hop! Why you have to stay so low? Man, my thighs!) and conditioning exercise (I did NOT just sign up to do planks, oh hell no) with my flabby arms and thick ankles, I decided to thank my body for movement. I hugged those puffy, strong ankles and smiled at them. Those ankles are as endearing to me as Joel's gray patch of hair behind his left ear or Bowie's ill-timed demands for hugs and kisses.

As I danced, I felt my body feeling foolish. I looked silly. I couldn't get the simplest of steps, despite my years of high school cheerleading and illustrious career as a dancing wedding entertainer.

Not too long ago, if I'd endured that kind of imperfection in a new experience, I would have cried myself all the way home. I would have felt my heart beat anger and disappointment through my veins. Worst of all, I would have quit. Just like that. Because if I didn't KILL it the first time, it would have meant I wasn't supposed to be a hip hop dancer and I wouldn't want to waste my one precious life pursuing something I wasn't good at.

Nah. It's time for a new way to be.

That's why I've embarked on a new campaign to rewire how I walk this earth. Phase one: Unteach the know-it-all inside of me that she has to be perfect. Taste and see that the real pleasure of life is buried in the trying and trying again. Feed my dance-shaped curiosity and know that once I master this silly hip hop walk we learned tonight (it's fucking fierce when my teacher does it, but I somehow end up looking like a creepy upright octopus), I will just want something else to master, another  thigh-burning sway o' the hips to get good at. And then, I'll look stupid once again.

And that's the point. Learn something new, look stupid, keep doing it, find joy, learn something new, look stupid, keep doing it, find joy.

Let's call it full on fool acceptance. Unlearning perfection and poise. Saying YES to the whimsical, unconcerned, costumed freak who wants to jump around like a lunatic asshole and laugh about it.

I don't have any guarantees of this, but I have a hunch that cultivating some crazy might just help me tap into a formidable source of power. An unbridled, scary with joy, thigh-strong monster of a woman that just might gobble you up on the dance floor.


Now I must go watch Beyonce dance and sit humble before my queen.

What the island water gave me.

Back in April, we took a trip to Oahu.

Oahu folded me in so gently, earlier than most land. We awoke just before sunrise on our first day, so we threw on shoes and walked the 200 feet from our beds. The sand was cool and fine. The water, quiet and expectant. The light, unholy in its consummate beauty.

We attended a wedding, our main impetus for going to Hawaii. At the reception, Bowie made her debut as a dancing fool.

I do not listen to popular music, so you can imagine my surprise when the song  'Uptown funk-y up," (as she affectionately calls the Bruno Mars song) and screamed at me to remove her carefully arranged bun and threw her head around like the demons of dance had possessed her. I stood in awe of her for a short minute before I answered the call of those same demons myself.

A moment in time. I sat lounging under a short beach umbrella with Tim and Julie sunbathing on my left and Jess and Joel sharing a bottle of cheap rose on my right. Ben lying contentedly on the shore as the waves pushed sand up his shorts. Phoenix and Bowie playing separately together, lost in a world of sweet sand and sea.

One evening Jess and Joel went shopping for dinner and Ben and I stayed back at the house with the girls. We sat in the fake plastic Adirondack chairs as the stars and I were invited to romp around in Ben's playground of a mind. The gentle breeze cool enough to pull my sun dress over my knees, but warm enough to keep me from breaking the spell by fetching a sweater. We looked deep into the night sky and found Jupiter.

One tequila morning was spent chatting with the always scantily-clad Jess. She had asked Ben to please save her from toddler hell, so Ben and Joel took the girls down to the beach. We were out of Pinot Grigio and decided to polish off a bottle of tequila instead (did I mention it was morning?). It's not every relationship that can handle some of what I told her, but Jess isn't your everyday kind of gal.

I can still feel the warm water of the outdoor shower as I helped Phoenix de-sand herself. We lingered there, with her chubby arms held tightly around my neck, still unsure of the water.

Holding her while she learns to trust being held.

Another moment. Jess swam off in the distance, Joel sat on the shore, Bowie buried herself in the sand, Ben answered the call of a far off island and took a trek, Phoenix stood on the wet sand, yelling at her Mom to fucking take her back into the water.

I swam in utter solitude, surrounded by these people I've decided are everything..

No breaking waves, just a rock-a-bye undulation.
Green and turquoise and deep gray blue water, warm as the sand.
The liquid salt so fine you didn't notice it, but felt lighter, easier to love somehow.

I lifted my feet, laid back, and began to float.
I thought of the people and souls inside of me. The archetypes I contain, the multitudes Whitman spoke of in Leaves of Grass.

And I felt something gently swim away from my being. Something good and lovely, but that needed a break.

The absolute authoritarian reigning supreme inside of me:  my judge, my skeptic. She was dethroned. She's so fucking beautiful and wise and vigilant and terrifying and damn strong, but she's tired.

I didn't even cast her off, there was no battle. She just wanted a break, she wanted to quick dip in some salty solitude. She mermaid-ed herself out of me, gently twisting with one easy ebb toward the shore.

But it wasn't permanent, because I'm learning that no part of me wants to be cut out. But, with the precious break, she came back to me having been bathed in solitude - that is, we reunited with a softer focus and a kinder lens.

It's what the island water gave me.

Lots more photos here:

Bowie Andromeda, 4 years old

To my one and only daughter on her 4th birthday. Let's continue to worship the great questions together, yes?