Archive for November, 2013

Portrait of a Pedophile

Note: I do not mean to incite a witch hunt, nor any kind of hunt whatsoever. What inspires me to share this is not the desire to identify any particular perpetrator–for, indeed, many truly gentle men may fit the broad portrait below–but to enable readers to see, as I do, what can lie concealed behind certain carefully crafted kindnesses.

He is tall and thin, his demeanor studiously unobtrusive.

His attire is stereotypically professorial–almost comically so. He lives by tweed.

He is vocal about his vegetarianism. He does not, he tells you, want to take part in harming living creatures.

This gentle giant is great with your kids. He is so great with them, he wants to give you a little time off from watching them. He will take them to shows and parks, and show them funny movies while you, a single parent, get a chance to breathe.

He is a trusted family friend.

He builds trust slowly, careful not to do anything that might alert you to his ulterior motives. As he builds your trust, he starts showing a different side of himself to your kids.

He tells them they are beautiful-more beautiful, even, than you.

He tells them it would wound you deeply to know this, and makes it their secret.

When he is sure he had laid a solid foundation for silence, he touches them.

He tells them he will kill you if they tell.

I testified against him. Read more…

I will always be Deborah Bryan.

My hand falters as I try to sign my new name. My head knows to spell out this new name, but my hand has spelled the old one so many thousands of times, it resists writing this new one.

After I pause for an eternity–at least, it seems that way in the dirty, stale heat of the DMV–I write the wrong name. The right one. The new one. I stare at it, noting the smudge where I couldn’t decide which name to write.

I stand in line, waiting to take my first picture as another Deborah.

I can’t believe what almost feels like trepidation. I have spent most of a lifetime wishing away the old name, an artifact from an absentee father and generations of abuse. My name meant something, all right; it meant that I was tainted. Read more…

Mommy, can you forgive me?

“Mommy, can you forgive me?” my son asked as we drove home last night.

“For what, sweetheart?”

“For being on red.” He hadn’t listened well at preschool.

I told him that didn’t require forgiving. We all have days where it’s a little harder for us to listen, I said, though we should always try.

Tonight, he asked if he could have pizza. “Not tonight,” I told him.

“Why not? Is it a privilege?”

“That’s right. It’s–”

“I didn’t lost any privileges today!” he exclaimed, already forgetting about pizza. “Wahoo!”

I thought about wide angle parenting. “You sure didn’t,” I told him, smiling. An afternoon on red is but a blip in a lifetime of opportunities to be on green. If occasionally hyperactive, my son is happy, loving, and compassionate. At the age of four, he already understands the difference between “right” and “privilege” in a way some adults still do not.

Can I forgive him? There’s no need today. If tomorrow calls for genuine forgiveness, though, I hope I will remember the sweetness of his forgiveness often and freely given, as well as the quiet, magical moments we shared today.

Thank Goodness for Girlfriends

I used to believe girls not my sisters were untrustworthy.

This sentence appears in my May 2011 blog, “A Woman’s Strength.” The remainder of that post reflects how very, very wrong I was about women.

I thought a lot about my relationships with women in the days leading up to my October 2013 wedding. With a baby on the way, I knew there was no way I’d be able to drive over to the outdoor wedding site in my wedding dress. I wasn’t honestly sure I’d be able to keep the dress on for the ceremony itself.

It was okay, though. I figured it would all work out just fine with the best of accomplices. A few days before my wedding, I wrote:

While making oatmeal, I got to thinking about how my mom always said, “You can’t trust women.” I wish she’d had my experience with girlfriends. I can’t even type “You can’t trust women” with a straight face because it’s so unfathomably outside my experience!

I got to thinking about this because of my bridesmaids. Based on what details Anthony and I do or don’t wrap up, my changing room might be a wall of sheets held up by my bridesmaids . . . which, when I think about it, is pretty fantastically symbolic. That’s kinda what girlfriends do, in my experience: hold out their arms in love to shield their girlfriends from the unwelcome or hurtful as best as they can.

The day came, and I discovered my wedding site was a few dozen yards from a public bathroom. My girlfriends used the sheet meant as my improvised changing room to cover the bathroom floor instead. Read more…

Breastfeeding, judgment and–finally–joyous mothering

Time spent regretting is time not spent making now better. I know this, but knowing doesn’t always magically deflect all pangs when I recall certain things. For example, it still pains me that I shirked most responsibility for wrongdoings when I was younger, leaving punishment to fall on my younger siblings.

Haven't changed a bit since then

Haven’t changed a bit

I choke up when I remember my high school graduation night. I spent the evening with my boyfriend and his family, not once considering that my mom might want to celebrate with me. I arrived home to find a table full of party food and a celebratory banner, but not a single person still awake to celebrate with me. My mom had spent money she didn’t have to celebrate me, and I hadn’t even bothered to show up. Nineteen years later, I still ache when I remember.

Bitterest of all is my remorse for all the joyous moments I failed to note the first two months of my son’s life. I sometimes saw his sweet face and appreciated it for what it was, but far more often I saw it and sobbed at what I could not do right for him: breastfeed.

As we were preparing for our release from the hospital, a lactation consultant stated ominously, “He’s losing too much weight. If you don’t get him eating soon, you’re going to have a serious problem.”

“Okay. So how do I get him to eat? What’s the plan?”

“Keep trying.”

“That’s not a plan. You’re telling me I’m going to have a problem, but you’re not giving me tools to fix it. That’s a problem.”

“Well . . . you can come back to our clinic if things aren’t working out.”

That was it. That was my guidance as I brought home a child the hospital recognized was barely eating.

I tried, and tried, and kept trying. I bawled as I told my visiting just-younger sister, “I’m a terrible mom. I can’t make him breastfeed. I’m failing.”

They saw the bigger picture that I couldn't

They saw the bigger picture that I couldn’t

Gently, my sister would try coaxing me to see that there is more to motherhood than simply feeding a child. She pointed to my love and loving care, but I could not hear her. Neither could I hear my son’s father, my partner, who shared my sister’s sentiment and added that all would be well as long as we got food into our son somehow. Between finger, spoon and syringe feeding, we did manage to get breast milk into him. We just weren’t doing it right. Specifically, I wasn’t doing it right.

I would never have judged another mother, but I judged myself hard. I wasn’t alone, either. I desperately sought practical guidance from breastfeeding forums, where some mothers responded with kind, encouraging words, but many others said things like:

  • I judge bottle feeders. And formula feeders? Even worse. I am doing it right. I am a better mom.
  • You’re using bottles? You’re poisoning your child with that plastic filth? Shame on you.
  • Women who don’t breastfeed just aren’t as motivated as me. They’re lazy.

These cold, hurtful statements so bluntly put–and abundant in almost every forum thread I visited–affirmed my conviction that I was a failure. The cheers of assent from the peanut gallery made this even easier to believe. It didn’t matter what my partner said, or my sister, or my friends. They were supposed to be nice to me. It was their job to tell me I was doing it right. Only forum strangers could be trusted to give it to me like it really was. Never mind that, like the hospital lactation consultant, they seldom gave one bit of constructive assistance.

Read more…

(Marriage) Equality: the light in and from us all

I supported marriage equality since before I supported marriage.

“Sure, I feel like marriage is a terrible idea, but there’s no reason my thinking on this ought to control anyone else’s life! If anyone can ruin their life with marriage, everyone ought to have that freedom.”

I’ve changed a lot the last few years. Many of these ways are for the better, although some would probably characterize other changes as “not better for them.” Fair enough! I’m not living for them.

One of those changes, fortunately, was in my thinking about marriage. With only a month of marriage under my belt, I’m still captivated by the romance of having chosen to give someone my all–not 85% or 90% of my all, but 100% of it. That’s the good and the bad. There’s plenty of both.

I’ve had to consider a couple of small practicalities, but mostly I’ve been aglow with the sweetness of it. Was this what I’d been afraid of? Really?

Then I took a trip to the hospital. Everything is fine, and my health is not the subject of this post.

I was asked an innocuous enough question at the hospital. “Do you have an advanced directive?” I said I didn’t, leading the office clerk who’d asked the question to say, “That means your husband will make decisions on your behalf.”


I’d given someone else the power to make life or death choices about me if I ever become unable. I’d made the choice knowing I could trust those decisions–whatever their specifics–to reflect at least dozens of our conversations and to reflect my wishes and beliefs as well as my husband’s own understandings of who I am.

There was little romantic and plenty powerful in that moment. My mouth kept answering the clerk’s questions while my mind struggled with the enormity of that matter of fact statement about my husband.

I’d read articles about men and women unable to visit their partners in the hospital. Unable to make choices for their partners as folks others deemed to be their real family made choices as the partners watched on the sidelines. There are fewer stories of instances like this since the Obama administration implemented rules mandating partner rights and decision-making a couple of years ago, but I was physically swayed at the thought that anyone had ever been exiled to the waiting room who belong at a loved one’s bedside. Read more…

This extraordinary ordinary life

“If I could time travel, I’d go back in time and watch that movie again,” I told my husband as About Time‘s credits began rolling.

I hadn’t really wanted to watch the movie this particular evening. As always, I had voted horror for date night; it’s been that way since Anthony and I began dating. Though willing to oblige, he had cast a quiet vote for what he described as a romantic comedy. It seemed only fair to watch something romantic for at least one date night, so I agree to forego horror for once.

What a choice that was!

There is romance in About Time, but it’s not really a romantic comedy. Rather than any one person, the main object of the protagonist’s frustrated, loving attention is life. All of it.

The single most captivating relationship in the film was the one between time traveling father and son. Their mutual affection was neither over nor understated, with love flowing between them through their every interaction. It was easy to see my own son and his father in these exchanges, and to marvel at the opportunities I will have to see their love grow as time goes on.

I cried through most of the movie’s final minutes. This was in part because of the movie itself, but in greater part for how the movie fit together with the theme of my weekend’s thoughts on time given freely and frequently to those we love. I’d begun the weekend receiving my advanced reading copy of Hands Free Mama, a “guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters.” The idea is that by devoting less attention to devices, we’re better able to appreciate and return the gifts of love in our daily lives. Read more…

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