Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fantasy World

Like many people, I've spent a lot of time in my head the last year. 

It's not unlike my childhood when I pretended my home was *actually* a boarding school for the blind, our bikes were horses, and instead of parents I was surrounded by professional educators who were warm, competent, and certainly childless. 

Or like my adolescence when I spent an inordinate amount of time struggling to picture heaven from all angles: from mathematical (try dividing eternity by 2 next time you have insomnia) to optical (no sun, no night, colors that don't exist on our color wheel?) to moral (how can people be happy in heaven if their relatives are on a perpetual barbecue in hell? is ignorance bliss?)

My fantasy world these days makes NURTURING ITS YOUNG its #1 priority. I dream of a society that refuses to buy police one more tank or even rubber bullet until EVERY school is stocked with paper towels, hand soap, free lunch that smells good, and a full-time nurse. Imagine if we agreed that all children--regardless of zip code or parentage--deserve real food, clean water and air, a safe home, health care, education, protection from violence, and the right to play at recess even if they forgot their ID.

Teaching would be honored, and financially rewarded, as a noble profession, with no tolerance for adults who model bullying in the classroom. (In the same vein, cops who violate the public trust, and men who commit violence at home, would forever forfeit any right to carry firearms.)

Mental health screenings--for all kids and caregivers--would be as regular as dental ones. New parents, or abusive parents flagged by checkups, would receive mentoring. Cities would competitively invest in quality childcare to attract companies. Children would be taught from toddlerhood how to care for their bodies and their minds, how to expect respect, and how to say no. Schools would get all the resources they need to fully fund music programs AND drivers' ed. And the healthcare coverage! Funded by taxing the corporations getting fat off our consumption, helpful drugs and therapies would finally be easier to get than deadly ones, even for teens or young moms surviving on $2/hr plus tips!

We'd keep strong families, of whatever shape or immigration status, intact--never killing or jailing or deporting parents over pieces of paper. We wouldn't let fostered children simply disappear. We'd interrupt the detention-to-incarceration pipeline with targeted social support until private prisons go bankrupt and law “enforcers” have to stop using body armor manufactured by American slaves. Maybe fewer kids would grow up wanting to wear a bully’s uniform or to escape their lives by dropping bombs on other kids with a remote control and would instead find meaning in trauma-informed social science, biological research, diplomacy, the arts.

We'd cease building prisons and we'd start centers for healing, with trees and gardens and libraries where Neil Gaiman's work isn't banned. Lots of sunlight. Treatment would focus on recovery, restoration, reconnection, relationships. And probably pancakes and puppies.

Maybe my fantasies are a buffer for my mental health, or maybe they're a threat to it. 

I used to imagine I was blind. 
Now imagination is the only way I can live with my eyes open.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020



According to my mom's nursing textbooks, a stage of labor. The worst part, I gathered from her friends. Tugging and stretching from the inside. "If she seems angry, or starts shaking, or says she can't do this--that's normal." Hallmarks of transition.

I was living in the Philippines while preparing for my wedding when a seasoned expatriate instructed me to attend a "transitions" workshop. I scoffed (I was young! I was resilient! I was leaving in a matter of months!) but that was decades ago and I'm still grateful. 

Having been exposed to very little research-based psychology at that point, the tools the instructors offered blew me away. I believe this was my first introduction to the concept of psychological trauma. They explained how our brains process change as loss, how we grieve even through happy transitions, and how to prepare a RAFT to ride out the rapids of inevitable change.

When they explained the importance of goodbyes, I cried. And there, under the palm trees, I began to heal from years of heart bruises sustained while working for the IBLP cult, which excelled at both facilitating deep human attachments and ripping them away.

Transitions, it turns out, are both cause for celebration and the most intense stage of creating something new. 

The following year, despite obsessively reading birth stories to prepare myself, my daughter was weeks old before I recognized the transition stage of my labor. At the time, the outside world fell away as I went deep inside myself, summoning the strength to start a brand-new life.

This summer has been one long series of transitions. I find myself obeying the same instinct, withdrawing and digging deep. It's been...intense.

Daughter to woman. Student to graduate. Child to adult. 

Shopping to pick-up. Friends to family. Travel to staycation.

Middle school to high school. School to home. Home to university. 

Quiet to loud. Inside to outside. Live to remote. Anxious to angry to hopeful and back again. 

Provider to mentor. Part-time mom to full-time to long-distance.

We moved our firstborn to campus last week, with protective masks and mixed feelings of pride, anxiety, envy. 

For us, it was the culmination of 18 years of choices in support of both our daughter and our values (albeit under circumstances we never envisioned). I confess, as the first to leave home myself, I had not fully empathized with the plight of a younger sibling losing a best friend. But parenting is ever an  emotional expansion--experiencing life through multiple proxies at once, each child needing different support.

Considering how many times I have used paint or a new hairstyle to assert autonomy when I felt otherwise helpless or out of control, I wasn't surprised when my youngest chose a radical new cut for her birthday this month. Or that she wanted to update her room. What did surprise me is that she recognized when the pace of change was too much. She knew to slow down what she could and climb aboard her own "raft", comforting herself with the familiar, digging deep, enjoying change by degrees. 

My girls give me courage to keep embracing change and as always, my partner provides steadying emotional support when I get wobbly and think "I can't do this".

We will all be adjusting to this latest transition for a few weeks, then remote high school will upend the routines we've slid into over the last 5 months of "summer" and we'll calibrate yet again, thankful for the technology that connects us to the things we need and the people we love. 

Transition: the process of changing from one state to another. 

Transitions are stages of movement and growth, and they can be intense! But to live well is to change, so I wouldn't want a life without transitions. Here's to making it through the rapids and floating out on the wide calmer waters beyond.

Sunday, July 19, 2020


The truck stop toilet bowl
Swirls red
Empties with a whoosh.

Why was it red, Mommy?
Mommies bleed sometimes.
Does it hurt?
Where does it come from, Mommy?
It looked like kool-aid. Giggles.
You’ll learn all about it someday.
And me?
Not you. Just mommies.

Nine years later—
Capsized by a wave of hormones
Baptism by blood
I am the fountain
I am the flood
I am…back in diapers?
No, thank you!
This is a mutiny!

At day’s exhausted end I
Brush my teeth, brush my hair,
Scrub iron-rich stains from underwear,
So focused I forget to look in the rearview mirror,
Miss my last glimpse of carefree girlhood.
I miss my body. The one that fit.

For whom this bloody sacrifice?
Certainly not for me.
This woman’s body is cranky and clumsy
And sore and doesn’t fit.
It leaks! A terrible design.

Having lived by the sun,
I’m now chained to the moon,
A mysterious red moon somewhere in my belly
That will drip down my legs
Like melted strawberry popsicle
Thirteen times a year.
If I’m lucky.

For how long?
Forty years, maybe.
Panties in the sink 500 times?
I didn’t sign up for this!

You look nice, he says. Is that perfume?
That shade looks unnatural, she says,
I don’t like your tone.

As if I am marooned by choice.

And you’re a lady now? pries granny.
I am.
The boys were fun, she remembers.
Nothing serious, just friends,
But we went to the beach and I couldn’t…
I dearly loved to swim.
It’s our whispered secret:
This lady business is not all grand.

On hikes and bikes and airplanes,
Church pews, carousels.
Bleeding through sleeping bags, guest sheets,
McDonald’s napkins in a pinch.
Crimson blotches on the soap bar.
Rolling engorged and sweaty pads into stinking snails
And burying them in the wastebasket.

I know my roommate’s blood by pungent scent
Uncowed by candles, soaps, or sprays.
She must know mine?
(Does it attract or repulse predators, I wonder?)
Discreet, we never discuss
But when we bleed we take the elevator,
A small monthly indulgence.

Undeterred by calendars
Blood intrudes on

My lovers were never squeamish
So why,
When I long to bathe a sword in blood,
Am I too shy to ask?

At long last I am ready to put
This program that has hummed steadily
In the background so long
To its use: a portal
To communicate with the future.
Red-hot hope fixed on
A water balloon in my belly
Spills out again in
Pools of liquid disappointment.
My moon is defective,
Its tides too strong.
Are we to be forever marooned in the present?
And then it holds!
Waxes full! Its tides raise a mountain and
From a mighty crevasse bursts new life, lusty and strong.
Blood flows like lava, slows, and is replaced by yellow drops as
Golden as new motherhood.

Before the tides can resume,
Another mountain, another earthquake,
A squirming pink treasure
With squinty eyes, rosebud mouth,
And a slit that oozes pink stain in the doll-sized diaper,
Practice for when she will sync with a moon,
Twelve years hence.

Son cries against the bathroom door.
Inside, I sit over a bowl of kool-aid and clots,
Shaky with relief. I rest my hands
On my thighs as milk lets down.
Gratitude flowing.
Everything leaking at once, salty and sweet.
Twenty years down. Twenty to go.

The toilet paper is gone.
Of course it is.

-J. Lofland


Saturday, January 4, 2020

National Public Radio

When you're working in the kitchen listening to the radio, do you ever fantasize about being one of those voices? About being asked questions in front of the entire country? For the last few years, I must admit that this has been one of my common daydreams. I wonder what I would say, whether my voice would shake, how one gets that kind of platform.

And then, while my family was seeing The Rise of Skywalker and I was still emotionally recovering from Christmas, I got a surprise email. 

And then a phone call...

And, well, I kicked off the New Year by being interviewed on NPR!

The experience is still surreal, since I only found out the day before that I would be a studio guest for a whole hour of the 1A program. Listen here to our conversation about regulations on homeschooling.

Some of you have tried to contact me here, which is how I learned that the Blogspot Contact Form has been down for weeks and messages left there will unfortunately not reach me.

If you have comments, etc., kindly visit Heresy in the Heartland on Facebook.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, thanks for caring. I can tell this is going to be a year of new experiences and stepping up to the unexpected!

Sunday, April 14, 2019


I haven't always understood why anyone would want to jump out of airplanes, climb peaks, race down snowy mountainsides on sticks, or be dragged across a lake strapped to a parachute. The last time I was at a beach with my mother, she gestured at the tourists flying like kites over the bay. "Would you ever want to do that?" she wondered.

That's when I realized what we have in common. Because I love a good rush of adrenaline, too. I just don't have to dance with my own mortality to get it. Lesser risks suffice to provide me with the thrill of survival. Going on stage without notes.  Walking into a public school. Inviting a stranger to dance. Inviting a friend to dance (which can be scarier!). Grocery shopping without a bra. Exposing my soul. And--most exciting of all--what I think of as Intellectual Skydiving. 

I get a buzz from daring thoughts. Entertaining dangerous ideas. Challenging norms. Blurring black and white. Indulging imaginations with real social repercussions. Viewpoints that carry potential for rejection, that could get one shunned or branded a heretic by one group or another. Conclusions one shares guardedly, or not at all.

After decades of change and transition and challenging my former ways of thinking, I’m always afraid the adventurous part of the ride is over. I've reached the boring end of the line. Get used to it, lady, I tell myself. It's called being stable. (Go ahead and laugh.) This is where we live now, centered. Rooted and grounded. There's nowhere left to grow. 

My heart looks wistfully back, convinced I will never again experience the heady rush of flirting with heresy or peering over theoretical cliffs or chasing my curiosity into dark, twisting, forbidden caverns.

But then... I do it again. 

And it's exhilarating. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fear and Freedom and Fear

I listened to a bit of Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress this morning. To tell the truth, the sound of mature-looking professional men yelling at each other in public wakened long-dormant memories of observing Baptist business meetings with my dad--when I was amazed to see a mild man, whom I had only previously known behind the pulpit or shaking hands, turn red-faced and angry when someone dared question the financial priority of his beloved softball!

When I turned the livestream on again later, a Republican Congressman was forcefully explaining why he didn't care what Cohen said. Cohen's words could not be trusted, he said, because Cohen is a liar. Greedy. A bully. A narcissist. He went on.

I shut the screen off again, because, really? As I learned decades ago from Winnie-the-Pooh, "there is no real answer to 'Ho-ho!' said by a Heffalump in the voice this Heffalump was going to say it in."

I used to love irony, but it has been so sadly stretched the last few years, so turned inside out, so prolapsed as to require surgical reconstruction. It turns out that irony is a kind of inside joke that is far less enjoyable when it is hanging out 24/7 and people are cruising past pretending it isn't even there.

Whatever words are spoken in the Capitol today, they will not solve my larger question:
How do I treat individuals...
      who voted for a sneaking, grasping bully... 
             with the dignity and humanity they deserve? 

Because I sure as hell* don't trust them.

Oh, they may seem like kind, decent people--they may be my neighbors, my relations, (heaven forbid!) my dance partners?--but their ballot choice exposed them as a threat, if not to me personally, then to my children and to other children and to the planet on which my children must live with their peers long after I've taken my leave.

I can imagine that these particular individuals, some of whom I must interact with, bear no malice toward me or mine. It does, however, require the exercise of imagination. Their alignment with a cruel incompetence may stem from ignorance--an excuse which, at best, reveals a deficiency of curiosity so acute as to be actually dangerous. Dangerous to me and to the ones I care about. Dangerous to women around the globe. Dangerous to anyone categorized by powerful men as "other".

The scent of danger on the air puts me on alert. My body stiffens, my heart pumps faster.

Fear. But we are warned against fear.

"Fear is a sin. We are commanded to 'fear not'. God has not given us a spirit of fear..." Jesus! I don't even believe in sin, or god, or spirits. Yet the deep anxiety over fear is ingrained.

"Fear is the path to the dark side! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate..." Shit, Yoda. You're no help!

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Yeah, right.

I've spent the last five years learning that it's okay to protect myself. That my fear can be a signal, that my instincts are a strength, that boundaries are my salvation, that not everyone is safe. And when people show me who they are, I believe them and take precautions accordingly.

What am I afraid of, exactly?

My life is great, after all! I have the intertwined privileges of being white, straight, married, educated, insured, Midwestern and middle-class. So what fear is set loose when I see men yelling at a New York lawyer who is on his way to prison?

Well, rational or not, I am afraid of enslavement. Not literally, though it has come to mind. Of losing my hard-won autonomy. Of having choices taken away. Of being punished for asserting my humanity. I fear coldness and narrowness. I fear losing a debate and with it, my freedom. And it does make me angry. Cages--for the body or the mind--make me angry. Injustice and inequality make me angry.

I saw the faces in Congress today. I know there are plenty of powerful people in Washington, in Kansas, in my neighborhood even, for whom I represent a threat to the fabric of society. With as much glee as they deport immigrants thirsty for a new life, they would put me back in the box where they deem I will be most "fulfilled".

Deep down, that is what frightens me. I may have anxiety about the environment, about global conflict, about economic trends, but small-mindedness scares me most of all. That is why my pulse quickens when I have to share a road or a sidewalk or a room with someone who is comfortable with a government that separates children from their parents, or a god who would barbecue me for eternity. People with an abusive and narcissistic god have grown accustomed to manipulation and abuse. We do not cherish the same values. We are not building the same future. Where I want bridges, they want walls. 

I don't want to live in fear. I want to live bravely, boldly, out in the sunshine. I also want to feel safe.

So... it's a dance.

The humans who remind me that this world is a good and beautiful place, who take risks, who expose truth, people with wise hearts and kind hands, who see with compassion and love without judgement--to them I show my truest self. Them I hold close to my heart. Them I wish well.

And those who--from ignorance or misguided zeal--empower cruelty, and greed, and lies, them I will be on guard against. Because I have known abuse. I have known narrowness. I have tasted freedom and I refuse to go back. I give myself permission to respect my fear. To use caution in the presence of people who have not earned my confidence. To jealously guard my best gifts. To be a wise serpent always, sometimes taking the shape of a dove. Because by fostering my own humanity,  I honor theirs, as well.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Out Loud Thoughts on Motherhood

How is motherhood "supposed" to feel?

I have suspected for a long time that the sentimentality about mother-love and maternal instinct and "you know you'd just die for them" and "my heart outside my body" is either a fantasy or more bullshit propagated to make women feel guilty.

After a decade of helping raise my baby siblings, I was very curious about how motherhood would feel different from sisterhood. I cared for my siblings: I fed them, changed them, bathed them, wiped their noses, brushed their teeth, braided their hair, played with them, cleaned their scrapes, kissed their bruises. I prayed for them, sang to them, rocked them to sleep. When Mom wasn't there, I did my best to keep them safe and happy so I could present them back to her--healthy and mostly clean. As far as I could tell at the time, the only things I didn't do were grow them in my uterus and feed them from my breasts. I looked forward to having that experience because that would make me a full-fledged woman, equal in stature to my mother and her friends, not a mere surrogate but the real thing.

Having babies was expected. I didn't particularly want babies or not want them (I had an alternate life plan should we happen to be infertile), but I believed motherhood was the surest route to feeling like a true adult, and I desperately wanted that. So I was excited when I found out that everything "worked" and we had made an embryo.

When my first baby was born, I cried over her every day for weeks. She was by far the tiniest person I'd ever held, I was amazed by all I'd just experienced, and the chemicals rushing through my sore and swollen body were a combination I'd never felt before. For the next few months, my focus was sharpened to a single point: keeping her alive at all costs. By which I meant keeping myself alive, because I was her lifeline, her energy source, her matrix. I expected the same response when my son was born, but it never happened and I wondered if this meant I was a terrible and unfit mother or simply a tired and seasoned one, non-stick like a well-used cast iron skillet.

I've always felt a strong responsibility for my kids when they are in my care. But I rarely spend much time thinking about them when they are at school or under the supervision of an adult I trust. It's as if, deep down, I still believe my responsibility is to keep my kids happy and safe until their mom gets home when I will be rewarded with, "Good job; thank you." And it turned out that having my name on three birth certificates still did not make me feel like a grown-up.

Many people have heard me speculate that my maternal "instincts" were burned out on my siblings, my first batch of children, as it were. I did worry about those children for years after I left home, fretting that I couldn't give them the care and love and protection they deserved. By comparison, I felt less attached to my own children. They were always present, of course, so there was no pull to be nearer. I didn't feel the way I expected to feel as their mother. Perhaps because they developed in a healthier atmosphere, they began to differentiate from me on a much more natural schedule. And even though they came slipping out of my vagina and their multiplying cells were fueled by food I swallowed on their behalf, they could have been another series of brother and sisters, or nieces and nephews--more small humans whose DNA resembles my own. Even today, whenever I am around my family of origin, I inevitably call my kids by my siblings' names, as if they are a continuation, rather than a new generation.

Perhaps I never had "maternal instincts" at all. I've certainly never wished that babies would stay babies; I was the one counting off how many more years till they move out of the house. The smaller the child, the more energy they required, and it seemed better for everyone when they could do more things for themselves. The most fascinating thing about babies was to watch them become increasingly responsive: when my daughter's nervous system developed enough to be ticklish, when she made eye contact, when she could mimic her grandma, when my son could be saddened by words on the radio.

Watching minds grow has always brought me joy. Feeding information to children is fun, in the same way that it was fun to feed peaches to the zoo bears when I was a kid. I must have been in second or third grade when my dad came home from a business trip and handed me a paperback with a colorful cover: The Silent Storm. I had watched enough Little House on the Prairie to grasp blindness; I'd been exposed to sign language and to braille. As I read about Helen Keller and W-A-T-E-R, I could imagine being locked in black silence with peaches and cake and toys--but no alphabet. No words. No books. No songs. No Sesame Street. To my mind, it was a fate worse than death. And tragically, no amount of parental love could bring Helen to life. Their desperation, however, led them to Annie Sullivan who slipped the key of language under the door of Helen's prison. That story gave me goosebumps. I reenacted it more than once, holding one hand under a cold spigot while spelling w-a-t-e-r with the other. Annie Sullivan was my kind of superhero; her spectacles were better than any cape. I longed for a Teacher, a companion and mentor to feed me all the knowledge I could hold. I wanted to be her. I would choose Annie Sullivan over Mrs. Keller any day.

And maybe that's who I've been.

Sometime in my mid-20's, I realized I'd grown up in a linguistics laboratory. And soon it was my turn to give my own children language. And not just language, but literacy: literature, comedy, journalism, speculation, poetry, song. They have the tools with which to experience this world and to express their sensations, as well to imagine new worlds and to communicate those images. They have inner resources I didn't have, and outlets for idea exchange that I didn't have, either. I'm thankful beyond words that they have teachers and friends and support systems outside the four walls of this house.

As a new mom, I imitated my own mom. I was a confident mother because I'd done most of it before, and the rest I'd watched her do. Every good memory from my childhood I tried to recreate for my own kids. But my own childhood ended by the time I was a tween, from then on I was more of a mother's helper than a daughter. I had years of practice raising young children...but now that my kids are teenagers? I'm winging it. It's all uncharted territory now.

Their lives are so different from my own at their age that we might have grown up on different planets. When I speak in the language of my first twenty-five years, only my husband understands the words. I feel lucky to live with someone who still remembers the world we came from, while my kids stare and ask, "What did you say? What does that even mean?" Sometimes we translate it for them, sometimes we let the words evaporate in the space that will always be between our children and us.

So I don't know how motherhood is "supposed" to feel. But when I listen to my children today, I feel pride mixed with awe. I enjoy their company. It's a treat to share new experiences with them. To introduce them to people and places and activities that hold meaning for me. To watch their personalities bloom. Watching them be themselves, I continually learn new things about my self. Now I find myself imitating them. I admire their courage, their discipline, their soft hearts, their creativity, and their wisdom.

They are, unexpectedly, becoming my favorite people and my best friends.