I woke up this morning, visited by a story. It took place over a year ago, and I thought I had forgotten about it, but here it is on this brisk morning, arriving just as crisp and clear as the ice that is now slicing through the frozen Earth. Braedon used to attend a gorgeous Waldorf school about an hour away. Thomas and I shared the drive, with Thomas doing most of the driving while I'd stay home with Lily. But each Monday morning I'd bundle up little Lily and Braedon and drive north for the day. After dropping Braedon off, Lily and I would make our way to my small office space not too far from the school, so that she could be fed and then enjoy a safe, warm and quiet space to nap. Just beside my desk, was a cozy nest of pillows, blankets and love so that I could work while she slept for a few hours. I'd keep the lights off, and work only by the glow of the computer screen. Two sound machines going to block out any sounds that might startle her from the other offices on our floor.
Once she'd wake up, our time in the office was done and off we'd go. Either to the library or a local museum or, most days, exploring the gorgeous lake and forest that were just outside the office window. Anything to keep busy until the time came to scoop up Braedon and bring him back home.
Then, one day, it all came to a screeching halt. Lily and I were just arriving after dropping Braedon off, and a man was waiting by my door. When I smiled at him, he said nothing. Only grunted, rolled his eyes, and stomped away. He was angry with me, that much I could tell. I just couldn't figure out why. I'd never seen this person before.
That same day, after Lily woke up, and we were heading out the door, there he was again in the hallway. Staring at me with so much anger. Was he trying to frighten me?
I got maybe five minutes down the road (walking to a local swimming pond) when my phone rang. It was our landlord. His voice sounded defeated.
"Michelle, I don't know how to say this. Um. I'm so sorry, first of all." Wait. What the heck was this?
"One of my tenants who has been in my building for years, has let me know that if you stay on the floor, he will go."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand. What did I do?"
"He says the presence of a child is too much for him to handle. He said he comes to the office to get away from his children, and having your daughter there insults him."
Insults? What. The.
I assured my landlord I would return to the office and talk to this man. Certainly there was some sort of misunderstanding. So back to the office I went. (In hindsight, I don't think this was the best decision. But, it is what it is...)
He was in his office room, with the door open.
"Hi. I'm Michelle. I don't think we've ever met."
(No response. Another woman who rents space on the floor was standing in the room with him, too.)
"I just got a call from the landlord..."
He looks directly at me and says, with so much hate, "You belong at home with your daughter. And if you do want to work, then she belongs in daycare. What you are doing is horrible. You should be ashamed. I feel bad for that poor child."
Heart. Stopped. Almost threw up on the spot. Dizzy.
Then the woman chimed in, "I'm a Mother, too. And I agree. You have to choose one or the other. It's difficult. My heart breaks every day when I leave my baby at daycare."
GULP. I took a deep breath and then, quietly but powerfully delivered a message from my heart:
"First of all, what I do and how I raise my family is none of your business. Second of all, I am proud that my daughter can witness her Mama working and earning a living while still being present. My daughter will see that there is more than just two buckets she can choose to put herself in. She will see that there are always ways to live an authentic, whole-hearted life."
I could feel my cheeks burning with heat.
"Silly woman," he replied, laughing.
"If you want the number for that daycare, please let me know. It's a really loving place. Please know that we are only trying to help you and help your poor child," replied the other woman.
"Do you think she is neglected? Do you think she is hurt? I only work when she is sound asleep," I tried to explain.
The man looked down at his desk, and said this:
"I think that it's not your place to ever work if you are trying to also raise a child. I think that is child abuse. I think if a woman wants to work, she needs to commit herself to that and hand the child over to other women who will care for the child so that the child is not confused." The woman nodded her head in agreement. He ket talking but by this point my Mama Bear rage had flooded my blood and it was taking all of my energy to breathe, and stay centered. I couldn't hear him anymore. When he finished, I pointed to the name plate on his door.
"This says you are a Dad. The name of your company says "Dad' right there. Tell me, then, do you have a daughter?" I asked.
"Yes. I sure do."
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, "It is my prayer that your daughter never feels her female spirit beaten and bruised the way you have done to mine today. I pray that she stands firm in her power and her will, and finds a way to transcend your oppressive heart."
I walked away. Got in my car. And sobbed.
I called my landlord and all he could say was, "My hands are tied. He has been a tenant for so long and his space is so much larger than yours. I am truly sorry. But, I have another space I can offer you!"
The next day, when I returned alone to pack up my office, I found a complete snakeskin outside.
Snake totems are extremely powerful medicine. Snakes are a symbol of wholeness and life force. Because they move without legs, they are able to navigate through challenging terrain and sudden change with grace and ease. They find their own paths.
I picked up the beautiful snake skin and placed it right against my heart.
I am not perfect. I stumble and fumble through this life journey just like everyone else. I make mistakes, both big and small, and if I'm being honest, most days I have no idea what I'm doing- I'm just doing the best I can. I don't have a concrete sense of self at all, I'm still exploring and shedding and clumsily making my way through at this time in my life.
BUT, one thing I do know with certainty is that I don't fit into any one category. I have never fit into any one mold, or box, or any other container of expectations. I live from my heart, and that usually means a bundle of contradicting elements woven together.
Working Mom + Stay at home Mom
Waldorf Mom + Blasts JayZ while making breakfast
Wedding Photographer + Repels materialism
and on and on...
At the undergraduate graduation ceremony for my program, my advisor read The Road Not Taken by Frost. When she opened the floor up to any family or friends who wanted to share, my husband Thomas stood up and said, "Funny you mentioned that poem, Barbara. I thought of that poem too. But then I realized Michelle is a woman who says, 'Oh, you're going to give me two roads? That's cool. I'm going to blaze my own trail over here where nobody else was looking. I'll make a third road, thankyouverymuch.' "
I'm not sure why this story found it's way to my mouth this morning. I do know that storytelling is so crucial, especially for women, so I share openly here as an offering.
You don't have to choose one bucket or the other. One road or the other. You don't. You don't have to contort yourself to fit into anyone's idea of absolute right or absolute wrong. Listen to your heart. Follow your Truth. It's completely messy and hopelessly unpredictable, but I promise you are not alone, and the journey will be beyond rewarding.
I have that sacred snakeskin framed in my home.
"Don't be afraid to blaze that third road," it reminds me. "You got this. With Grace and Ease."