Nod your head along as four hilarious and honest moms admit their favorite and least favorite parts of being mothers. They divulge what surprised them most about motherhood, what makes it all worth it (three of the four said the same thing!), and also how they work through mom guilt to allow themselves to attend things like a five-day writer’s retreat, which is where this episode was recorded. One mom says the most taboo (yet relatable) thing, another reads us the guilt-laden letters her kids hid in her suitcase, another nails it about why leaving your family helps everyone, and one takes a fascinating detour and educates us about a questionable trend in Australian prisons. She knows because she works in one when she’s not over-communicating with her kids. This episode is full of authenticity, laughs, swearing, and friendship.
Brandy: Hello, listeners, and welcome to the Adult Conversation podcast. Today’s episode was so much fun to record and edit. A few months ago I went on a writers’ retreat with, well, other writers, and many of them were also moms. All of these women are the funniest, most sincere, and lovable people that I have ever met. Some of them I had met before, and some of them I hadn’t. And in our downtime, when people weren’t napping, hot-tubbing or smoking cigarettes – oh, or writing – I grabbed a few of them, put a microphone in front of their faces and grilled them about motherhood. Specifically, what they found to be the hardest parts, and also the best parts. And then how did they allow themselves to abandon their Mom duties and come on a four-day writing retreat? Was the guilt thick? Did they feel like they deserved to do this? And how did they get over all of that and show up? So laugh along with us from a child-free retreat center in the beautiful Pescadero, California, where we get really real about motherhood. And I feel like I need to warn you that one of my lovely guests deviated a bit and takes us on a wild ride as she describes a lesser known body art that’s practiced in Australian prisons.
Brandy: And a huge shout out to my new Patreon peeps, Crystal Cash and Angel Kwiatkowski. Thank you guys so much for making this podcast possible. On to the show…
Brandy: First, I have to say that I’ve had a cold, so I sound-
Shanna: Super sexy.
Brandy: Real fucked up. I sound like a dude, bro. So, sorry about that. I feel like people who do podcasts probably just don’t record when that happens, but I’m at this retreat, a writing retreat in the amazing … What are we in, mountains of Pescadero, California?
Shanna: That’s correct.
Brandy: Yeah. So, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun? I’m here with the most amazing women ever, who are writers, and just to even be around people who talk this creative language is just the greatest gift ever. So, but everybody here is really fucking funny.
Brandy: And really amazing, so I thought, I would like to just get some little vignettes and blurbs from people that my listeners might find interesting. And I’m just genuinely curious what you’re going to say anyway. So, we have with us Shanna, who’s one of the awesomest people.
Brandy: Okay, so my question… You know, there are some families who do this thing where at the dinner table at night they’re like, “What’s one positive part of your day?” And then like, “What’s one struggle you had?” And so this a little bit of a version of that. I don’t do that. I’m just trying to get somebody to eat their dinner most of the time.
Shanna: Yeah, right.
Brandy: But I’m just curious to take, just a poll, a swath of mothers – kind of a similar thing. So I’m going to start with the question, what is one piece of motherhood that you found to be totally the most fucked thing in the world? Or maybe something that you struggled with?
Shanna: I think the imbalance of labor is fucked.
Brandy: Okay, we’re talking between … Gender inequality?
Shanna: Correct, yes.
Shanna: And we’ve talked about that before, so this is nothing new. But, yes, that makes me crazy. And I feel like I’m constantly having to point it out to my spouse, “These are all the things that I did today. Take a gander.”
Shanna: And he never says this, so I don’t know why I don’t give him more credit, but sometimes I think he thinks I’m sitting around eating bonbons.
Shanna: Watching soaps or something. So, this might be my own issue, but I do feel like sometimes I have to prove all of the different things that I do to keep this family going, and running. And, actually, coincidentally, this retreat – because this is the third time I’ve gone on it (which maybe you can edit that out). Anyway-
Brandy: No, it stays.
Shanna: These little moments that I steal away, and they have to manage without me, are very interesting. Little snapshots of, “How’d it go?” when you get back and usually, shit fell apart. Like sometimes even really fell apart and tears and like-
Brandy: Yeah, there was something that happened last time. Somebody got left somewhere.
Shanna: Yes, my daughter, it was her first week of middle school. And it just happened to coincide with this, and I had all these pages laid out. Wednesday, here’s the pickup, here’s picking up, here’s, you know just everything all down and taken care of. And as these things sometimes happen, one of the girls thought that she saw Marlee left early, and so when the carpool dad came to pick her up, they said, “Oh, where’s Marlee?” “Oh, she went home with her grandma early,” and she was supposed to go to her grandparents, eventually. So, they just moved along. Anyway, she got left. We didn’t have a phone for her and she was at a new school, was kind of turned around, and didn’t know how to get home. It just, you know, one thing after another.
Brandy: And then maybe that answers the question for him: what you do all day is you make sure that doesn’t happen.
Shanna: Correct. Right.
Brandy: On a daily basis.
Shanna: Right and you have to be the one to sign the permission slip or the kid doesn’t get to go on a thing, and let’s be honest, the signing the permission slip thing, I keep telling myself I’m gonna buy a stamp. Because if I have to fill in my goddamn policy ID number for my insurance and stuff on these things, I’m gonna kill somebody.
Brandy: How about we do that once?
Shanna: And why don’t they know it? And so I always have to go get my wallet and pull out the card and do the thing.
Brandy: You know what? Actually, I think it’s a really interesting question. You have me rethinking what I want to ask you guys. So, we’re at this writer’s retreat, a lot of us are moms, how do you allow yourself to come to these? Because there are lots of moms out there who are probably thinking they could never leave, but how do you make it okay? And was it hard for you the first time you went on one of these?
Shanna: Yes, yes. I had a very hard time the first time. First of all, doing it, it was just like, I loved all of the people that I interacted with on this blog and wanted to hang out with them and wanted to learn to be a better writer. So I had everything that I wanted. It was close to my house-ish.
Brandy: Yeah, that probably made it easier.
Shanna: And so I decided you know what, I’m gonna do this for myself, and I told my husband it was what I wanted for my – I think it was my anniversary gift, my birthday present – let’s just cram all three gifts in one. I really want to go, real bad. And so he said, “Yeah, absolutely. Do it, do it, do it.” And then when I got here, I was like, super awkward. Or at least I felt I was super awkward. I don’t think anybody would say that they notice, but I-
Brandy: I wasn’t at your first one. I was at your second one, right?
Shanna: No, you were at the second one, yeah. Again, super awkward, but just … It was like less amount of time I was awkward, and this time I just kind of … We only had a couple little glimpses of awkward but anyway. But yeah, it’s you know, it’s weird because all of a sudden you’re like, whoa, I am responsible for no one but myself. And I get to put all of those energies and all of those focuses, all of those things throughout the day on me.
Brandy: I know. What a shift, right? But how do-
Shanna: It’s trippy.
Brandy: How did you even make space, though? How did you make the decision like, I deserve to do this, and I’m going to do it?
Shanna: Well, I’ve been in therapy for three years, and I’ve been to this retreat now for three years. So, that probably is telling.
Brandy: Yeah, so knowing that you needed it.
Brandy: For your own benefit.
Shanna: And I’ve never really been one to deny myself the pleasures of life. Which kind of segues into also some of the challenges with motherhood is, that I have to give up so much of me to be their mom, and to be a wife and that takes up so much emotional labor and physical labor and learning new things. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know the first thing about cooking, so I had to just dive in and make it happen.
Brandy: Figure it out.
Shanna: Make it work.
Brandy: To feed your people.
Shanna: And I don’t particularly enjoy it. I like making things that people get excited about or whatever. I mean, that’s satisfying for me but I don’t particularly enjoy it, but it’s part of my job. Oh, and the other thing is, why is everything mom’s fault? Everything. Even the thing about Marlee getting left at school, somehow ended up in the passing of the story along, and stuff – “Well if she would have …” It’s more of a joke but still.
Brandy: But still.
Shanna: Of the things that you feel like you give up of yourself, what’s one of the top things that you had to give up?
Shanna: Sleep. Sleeping is one of my top three favorite things to do.
Brandy: Yeah. What are the other two?
Shanna: No, we’re not having that conversation!
Brandy: Yes, we are.
Shanna: No, we’re not. (laughing)
Brandy: I am baiting you on this.
Shanna: You’re so not. That’s a whole another podcast. And I’ll need some wine.
Brandy: “Dark nights with Shanna Bengtson.”
Shanna: Oh, we’ll go there. You can’t put me in Mom zone, and then be like, “And what are the other things?”
Brandy: But that’s the thing. It’s … That’s the best part is, a retreat like this takes you out of Mom zone.
Shanna: True, true, true.
Brandy: Which is so great because then you get to connect with those parts of yourself which is so necessary. It’s interesting to see at a retreat like this, to see who we are when, we’re not at the park.
Shanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brandy: Like when you could smoke weed on a porch.
Brandy: Do you?
Brandy: You know, I mean, it’s like …
Shanna: I do.
Brandy: It’s like all of those.
Shanna: And the cigarettes. The last time I smoked a cigarette was when I was here, and I don’t crave them or anything, but it was like, oh, I’m just going to be naughty. I CAN BE naughty. And you know what? I’m going to take it to the next level. I’m going to take a nap. I’m going to take a two-hour nap. You think it’s so decadent, and so, really just delicious. You can this bed here is well loved. (pats bed)
Brandy: And there’s no … There’s just no children. I mean, that part in itself, it’s like deprivation therapy.
Brandy: I was talking with a friend about how – and I feel almost like a dick, because it’s a pretty privileged thing to be able to like go to a retreat, you know?
Shanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, for sure.
Brandy: And so I just want to acknowledge that this isn’t just something that “if only you just went to a retreat you too would…” We’re lucky to be able to do this, and yeah, I do I rub strangers bodies to pay for this. So, I’m not a prostitute, although you know what I realized the other day? The only difference between, well not the only, but one of the few differences between my job as a massage therapist and a prostitute is a sheet.
Shanna: And intention.
Brandy: Yeah, the intention is different. But the next closest job is like a prostitute or a physical therapist. So, I’m hovering in that middle space.
Brandy: Anyway, I was talking to a friend about when you go to retreat, how the first couple days, you just like, you almost don’t know how to be.
Brandy: And so it feels like there’s this armor that you have up in the world, and you don’t think about yourself. So then when somebody serves you a meal that you didn’t have any part in making, or buying or planning, it’s like spiritual.
Shanna: It’s super weird.
Brandy: I remember the first time I came here, and our cook here is not only like a fucking …
Shanna: She’s a wizard, goddess, unicorn.
Brandy: Yeah, she’s the most brilliant person on the planet. She’s just amazing and such an amazing cook, but I remember there were some of us crying last time at the first meal.
Brandy: Which is so sad in a way because it’s like that’s how deprived we are.
Shanna: It’s kind of beautiful but it’s also really kind of pathetic.
Brandy: Yeah, but so it’s this interesting thing that happens where the first couple days, it’s like you almost don’t let yourself enjoy things.
Shanna: Correct, absolutely.
Brandy: Because you haven’t let yourself-
Shanna: That’s what I mean when I said I was awkward. I was like, I don’t know what to do with myself.
Shanna: I have to be busying my hands. Somehow, or-
Brandy: Exactly. Like when I’m not care-taking people, who am I? And then once you’re like, “Wait, so I am in the driver’s seat all day? Like I choose when I go to the bathroom, and I choose when I eat and when I sleep?” It just … I don’t know. It feels like a dog off of a leash all of a sudden and then you get in the zone, and it feels so good.
Shanna: So good.
Brandy: And then-
Shanna: It’s over.
Brandy: And then when you have to go back home, it’s like, well-
Shanna: Oh, the home is … I really am so jealous of those of you who have to get on a plane.
Brandy: Oh, right and have the time to-
Shanna: Because that’s like that transition zone where you’re like, okay, I’ve got to mentally prepare myself to get back. But I’m basically like dropping some of you bitches off at the airport and then I have to go.
Brandy: And then straight home.
Shanna: Boom. “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
Brandy: Yeah. I wouldn’t mind like a 12-hour flight, but then when you go back home, you have to put the armor back up. So, it’s like when you go home, you’re all vulnerable and raw, and then you’re immediately like, “Oh, my god.” The reentry is hard.
Shanna: It’s real, and you get prickly, and you get kind of – I get very indignant.
Brandy: Yes, because you realize-
Shanna: Like, “Things are going to change around here!”
Brandy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You come home with a whole new set of rules.
Shanna: “Tuesday, you’re making dinner, Frankie. Wednesday, you’re…”
Brandy: “I’m taking no one’s shit anymore!” But it’s like you really get to see how normal people live. People who have autonomy and then when you go home, and you don’t have it anymore, it’s like how can I get more of this?
Brandy: So it’s eye opening, and it’s so refreshing, and then it’s also almost, is it better to not have gone? Because then the armor would have never come off.
Shanna: Right, right.
Brandy: I mean, it’s not. It’s never better.
Shanna: Clearly it’s not. This is my third time here and I’m so… I’m all in.
Brandy: You’re addicted, clearly. So, what’s been one of your biggest joys of motherhood?
Shanna: Hmm. (pauses for a good five seconds)
Brandy: I feel like, “10 hours later.”
Shanna: I know, right? That’s so hard. I guess seeing them accomplish things and living their triumphs and stuff through that, experiencing that.
Shanna: My youngest has special needs, and she has a rare form of muscular dystrophy and so when she was born, they told us she’s never going to sit up on her own. “She’s strong, she’s going to have some strength. She’s very bright and cognitively intact and blah, blah, blah, but she’s never going to sit.” Okay. So, my husband and I ordered special medical equipment, the little sitting chair to properly position her. And before the thing… It takes like six to eight weeks. All medical equipment, for whatever reason, takes forever. So, we’re waiting the six to eight weeks, and between that time she learned to sit up on her own.
Shanna: And we’re like, oh, okay. And then arrived, and we all kind of laughed, and the doctor said, “Well, that is really great. But she’s never going to stand on her own. She just simply doesn’t have the strength for it. So, we need to get her this thing where she can – now that she can sit up that’s great – but we’re going to have her stand, so she can do certain things.” And then the same thing happened. And so it kind of became a joke. Well, she’s never going to walk on her own ever, so we get her this little gate trainer thing, and we’re walking around IKEA with this little thing, and she’s… And I kept saying like, “You don’t know this kid.” You don’t know this kid, and she is just such a little shit. She’s so determined and willful.
Brandy: Stubbornness can be useful.
Shanna: Yes. I don’t know that she would even be alive if she wasn’t as stubborn and willful. But so those little things, and now that she’s old enough and aware, and so we give her these little challenges. We’re like, “Well, what do you think?” And her physical therapist, “What’s your goal, your physical goal for this year, for your physical therapy?” And she says, “I want to jump.”
Shanna: “I want both feet to leave the ground and jump.” So she’s, she works so hard on this and she’s like, “I’m doing it, Mom. I’m doing it.” So, it’s really cool, and when she reaches these little milestones, or does these little challenges that she sets for herself, it’s incredible. And likewise with my older daughter, “I want to enter this writing contest.” She busts this story out, and it’s brilliant and awesome and she entered it. And she wasn’t even of age yet. I had to actually write them and ask if a 10-year-old can enter a 12-year-old and up writing contest. So anyway, little things like that. You know, the swell is real and of course just those little tender moments when they come grab your hand, or when I find my little love notes hidden in my luggage.
Brandy: Oh my gosh, yeah. Your kids… get them out. Can we read the note?
Brandy: Is that okay?
Shanna: If you can read her writing, yeah.
Brandy: So, super cute with a little blue puppy. (gets a piece of paper)
Brandy: Okay. So, in Shanna’s suitcase was this adorable note. It says, “Dear Mom, I hope you are already having fun and got the bed you wanted. I miss you and I hope this week goes by fast for me. I also hope that you have the most fun ever. Don’t forget me. Take this stuffed animal and snuggal with it.” And “snuggle” is spelled S-N-U-G-G-A-L, which I sort of think snuggal should be always spelled this way.
Shanna: I kind of like it too.
Brandy: “…and snuggal with it. I love you so much. PS. Hope our family doesn’t fall apart.” Oh, my god. “Love, Frankie.”
Shanna: Just a little sprinkle of drama in there at the bottom.
Brandy: Yeah, just a little bit of guilt, yeah.
Shanna: “PS. Hope we don’t all fall apart while you’re gone, Mom.”
Brandy: This is just amazing. Things like this just are…
Shanna: That’s when I’m like, “Ahhh, fine. You get to live another day.”
Brandy: “It’s all worth it.” What was the other note from your other daughter?
Shanna: Oh, yeah. I’ve got a bunch of these. (gathers Post-It notes) These are all hidden in my books, and in my suitcase and in my laptop case.
Brandy: Oh my gosh.
Shanna: “Have so much fun. Love, Mars.”
Brandy: That’s adorable. See, and you know what? Speaking of the retreat stuff, I was talking to somebody else here that it’s easy to feel guilty about leaving. Especially when your kid says, “I hope our family doesn’t fall apart while you’re gone…”
Shanna: I didn’t hesitate.
Brandy: But it’s so easy to feel guilty, and not come. And I think part of this is modeling for both of my kids, but specifically my daughter because my son will have Dad privilege. But for my daughter, it’s like, “No, Honey. You take the trip you want to take, and I’m not only going to say that, but I’m going to have shown you that. Because you don’t have to be a mom that’s there 24/7 like a martyr.”
Brandy: And so when we do these things, it’s… this could be just like a justification – I don’t think it is, but it really teaches our kids that they can do these things for themselves and also that your mom is a human being.
Brandy: And so guess what? Human beings have passions, and things outside of just these roles.
Shanna: Right, right.
Brandy: I actually feel good about leaving because I feel like I’m giving my daughter freedom.
Shanna: Yes, agreed.
Brandy: And that feels good, yeah.
(short musical interlude)
Brandy: Okay, so I have Ronnie with me. So, I’ve been asking everybody, what’s the highlight? What’s the low light? So, for you what has been one of the hardest pieces of motherhood or the most fucked piece for you?
Ronnie: Oh, that’s … there are many.
Brandy: Right, so you have to choose.
Ronnie: And I wish … I wish I didn’t have to choose, but I’d say – I think the hardest piece has been dealing with the tedium and the repetition and the fact that raising another human being involves a lot of saying the same thing and doing the same thing over and over until they’re able to grasp it, or they choose to grasp it.
Brandy: God, yes. Give me a phrase that’s been said for many times in your house.
Ronnie: “Put your dishes in the dishwasher.” And I find that, often, I end up in a space where it happens, and I know it’s going to happen, and I know it’s not like he’s putting them on the counter at me. It’s not a personal attack.
Brandy: No, I would say it is. I’m going to argue it is.
Ronnie: And I immediately go nuclear, and I’m like, “No more plates for you,” which is not going to work.
Brandy: Oh, my god. Yeah, “We’re not eating ever again.”
Ronnie: You are eating in a trough. Like I just go all in. And I have to remind myself that he’s learning to be a human at the same time that he’s learning to interact in our family.
Brandy: I know, but god damnit, why does it take a zillion times? Like, so my thing is, “I can’t hand you something because I’m driving our car.”
Ronnie: Oh, my god, yes.
Brandy: I’ve said that for I mean, I’ve said it for 12 years, and when you have kids staggered, so then you say it for longer. It’s going to take like 300 times.
Ronnie: Right. Like, what is the magic number? If I knew the magic number, I could start counting, and then I think it would be less anxious about it.
Brandy: Right, because you’re like, 400 more times, and then we’ll get there.
Ronnie: Right, I’ve only got 257 more times and then this will be over. But I don’t know. I don’t know why it takes so many times, and that’s the part where I get so frustrated, and I find myself thinking, it has to be me. I have to be doing this wrong because the message isn’t getting through. When in reality, it’s not me. It is him.
Brandy: But also, how are giraffes born and then they learn to walk? It’s like everything animals need to learn, they learn in like the first two hours after birth. And then ours our like, oh, no, for 18 years. How did … Why are we …? Why are we so dumb?
Ronnie: I don’t know if giraffes ever put their dishes in the dishwasher.
Brandy: No, probably not.
Ronnie: So, that could also be a part of it, the issue.
Brandy: Yeah, that’s probably true.
Brandy: That they don’t have to do that. Fair enough. But why are … Why do we take so long to learn?
Ronnie: I want to think that when I was growing up, it didn’t take me that long. I have a feeling my mom would refute that statement.
Brandy: I have a feeling mine would too.
Ronnie: And it’s not the hard things. It’s the little things that seem to take forever.
Brandy: The daily – a conversation we have in my house a lot is, “Just so you know, like we said yesterday, every morning you’re gonna have to brush your teeth, and put clothes on.”
Ronnie: Why is it that you have to set the expectation, “I just want to make you aware for the rest of your life, you’re responsible for wiping your ass?”
Ronnie: Just you are. It’s on you now forever.
Brandy: This is a thing, and also when we’re in the car, “Hey, every time the car stops we’re going to be getting out and your shoes need to be on.”
Ronnie: Oh, my god, the shoes off in the car.
Ronnie: Why are you surprised when we pull into a parking spot of the store you asked to go to? That you screamed, when you saw as we pulled in? And now you don’t have your shoes on.
Brandy: I don’t remember as a kid not having my shoes. Actually, I’m going to double down on that, and I remember having my shoes on non-stop as a child. I mean, I guess when I was doing back handsprings in the backyard, no, but I don’t remember this thing where I was in the car, and my mom was like, “Get your shoes on.” Like we were just fucking ready. You’d be ready or you don’t go.
Ronnie: Oh, there was no other option. No other option and now that you mentioned it, I remember my mom, it used to be a thing. That it would be like … My mom will be like, “Okay, you can take your shoes off for 30 minutes in the house,” and I thought that was the shit, to walk around in my stocking feet. Now, I can’t-
Brandy: “Stocking feet?!”
Brandy: You just aged yourself. You either aged or regionalized yourself.
Ronnie: I’m going to … Just let’s call that retro.
Brandy: Okay. Retro.
Ronnie: Retro lingo thrown in there.
Brandy: Yeah, nice.
Ronnie: But I can’t keep shoes on my child, and I don’t know why.
Brandy: Pants and shoes are just the most depressing things.
Ronnie: Jesus, the pants, the fucking pants.
Brandy: I feel like my answer to this would just be “pants.” Like what is the most fucked part of motherhood would be pants. Okay. So, let’s go to the other side.
Ronnie: I think one of my biggest joys is probably centered around watching my child successfully tackle something or successfully achieve something that I had seen him have doubt about.
Brandy: Oh, that’s so interesting. You have the same answer as Shanna.
Brandy: Yeah, I think this is a universal theme.
Ronnie: Yes. It’s watching him explore and embrace the confidence in himself and be comfortable in his skin and take a risk and know that “I can take this risk. I can take this step. I can try this thing, and hopefully good things will happen. But if it doesn’t, I’m going to be okay.” Those are the moments where I’m like, maybe I’m not completely fucking him up. Maybe.
Brandy: One of my favorite things ever is to watch the talent show in elementary school, even though I know people are like, “Oh my god, why would you sit through that?” It’s exactly what you’re saying. These people are excited about life enough that they’re like, “I’m going to put my little thing in the world, and I’m confident enough to see what happens.” I bawl through the talent show even though I’m like a heartless –
Ronnie: Yes, you are very heartless.
Brandy: Yeah, I’m so heartless. But even though I can be critical or whatever, I’m just like, all of you deserve everything in life that you’ve ever wanted, because it’s the bravest, most beautiful thing ever.
Ronnie: That’s it. That’s it, and it’s funny that you say that because at my son’s school, it’s the spelling bee.
Brandy: Oh! Oh, my gosh, right?
Ronnie: And the winners of all the classes go up in front of the entire school and you’ve got these little kindergartners through fifth graders up there spelling, and they come in and put themselves on that stage and try. And I’m sitting there rooting for every single one of them and I’m in tears when one of them gets out because their faces fall, and you can see that moment of like, “Shit, I messed up.” And their little shoulders slump. And I just … I’m in tears, and I’m equally in tears when there’s a winner crowned.
Brandy: Yes. Oh, totally.
Ronnie: Because the human triumph there is just too much for me to bear. It’s too beautiful.
Brandy: And they’re so pure.
Ronnie: It’s so pure.
Brandy: Yeah. A third question that I have is, coming on retreats like this, there’s a lot of moms out there who wouldn’t be able to say yes to it for many reasons. Out of guilt – I mean, I talked about before out of sheer privilege, so, this is like, we are lucky to be able to do this –
Brandy: So, how did you let yourself come to the first retreat you ever came to instead of saying, “Well, I need to be home and be Mom 24/7?”
Ronnie: I’m not sure that I let myself as much as I made a promise to myself to really see if there was a reason I was writing. If I was just bullshitting myself, or was there something actually there. Did I feel like I really wanted to put something in the world? And I was taking some of the online classes, which were wonderful, but they were safe. I could show up for an hour, there was a screen between me and everybody else. And I knew the only way I was really going to push myself to a point of, “Is this something I actually want to pursue?” was if I showed up at a retreat in person and put myself in a position where I was super uncomfortable.
Ronnie: And I sat down with my husband and I was like, “I think I want to do this.” He said if I have the balls to go do this retreat, then I think I have the balls to be a writer. And I’m very lucky that my husband is an incredibly wonderful partner and was like, “If this is what you need to do, then do it.” While I was there, trying to balance what I thought I wanted with the fact that I was wrestling with guilt about leaving my family and my young son who flipped the fuck out the night before I left…
Brandy: Making it extra easy.
Ronnie: …my family went through both a hurricane and the stomach flu.
Brandy: While you were gone?
Ronnie: While I was gone for seven days. So, there was that.
Brandy: So, when you came home were they like, “Oh, my god, we love you. We’ve missed …” Was that beneficial to you that they had to do that without you?
Ronnie: It was. It was because it reminded me that they’re capable. It reminded them that they are capable.
Brandy: Exactly, right.
Ronnie: And it reminded me that I shouldn’t be setting up a system that is completely depending on me.
Brandy: Ding, ding, ding. That’s the correct answer. Oh, my god, right?
Brandy: That’s the thing, is if you don’t ever leave your family because, “Oh, I do all this stuff, and I know how to do it right,” and all of that, you have put yourself in a cage.
Ronnie: You have, and you’ve taught your child to put their partner in a cage.
Brandy: Exactly. You’re speaking truth, Ronnie. Yes, exactly right. What you’re modeling also.
Ronnie: Yeah. It matters.
Brandy: And this is not to like, everybody out there who hasn’t gone on a retreat, like you’re fucking your shit up.
Ronnie: No, no, no. We all fuck our shit up differently.
Brandy: Yeah, exactly. Right. It’s all part of this thing about being a human too. Showing your kids that you are human, but also, they can survive without you.
Brandy: And also your partners, you can survive without me. And now guess what? You might have to get a look into all of the things that I have to do to keep things functioning.
Ronnie: Exactly. It was validating for my husband for me to be like, “I’m going to leave the country.” Granted it was Canada and not in the US, but I was out of the country.
Brandy: Yeah, right.
(beautiful, loud bell dongs outside)
Brandy: Oh, that’s our dinner bell.
Brandy: You guys wait. I have to. … We have to just say this. This is what happens, is there’s a bell that’s rung, and what that means is you go eat food that you didn’t have to have any part in obtaining or cooking.
Ronnie: And you don’t have to wash a dish.
Brandy: My friends were like, “This writing retreat you go on sounds awesome.” I’m like, yeah, just write words. It doesn’t even matter. You don’t have to be a writer.
Ronnie: Just right words. That’s pretty much all we do. Just write words.
Brandy: But just come here, and eat food that’s prepared for you and like chill in the most gorgeous place ever.
Brandy: Yeah. So, I’m recruiting people for this, clearly. You were in the middle of saying something before we were beckoned to dinner.
Ronnie: Well, I mean, dinner is very important, so I will wrap this up. But what I was saying is, I think it also showed that I believed in my partner and my son. I believed that they could do it. I believed that I had set them up to succeed, and it’s my job, I think, as a parent to set my son up to succeed, not to set him up to depend. And so I strive for that.
Brandy: Damn, girl. You’re the greatest Am-
Ronnie: No, no, no don’t finish that sentence.
Brandy: You’re a great American hero. That is what you are.
(short musical interlude)
Brandy: Okay, so now I have with me, Tiphini. For you, what has been the most fucked up part of motherhood? Possibly something that surprised you, the most surprising thing. The thing that you didn’t know that this is what motherhood entailed.
Tiphini: I think the most surprising part is I never expected to hate my children.
Brandy: Oh, yeah, okay.
Tiphini: Well, you know.
Brandy: And also thank you for having the balls to say that, because I feel like many moms would never say that, but we’re here to say the things that many moms won’t say. So, thank you for that.
Tiphini: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of conflicting feelings. I can hate my children and still want to jump in front of a train to save their lives. But then at other times, I want to throw them in front of the train as well.
Brandy: Yeah, and you have a unique situation as well.
Tiphini: Yes, yes.
Brandy: Do you want to tell us just a little bit about that?
Tiphini: Sure. I have four children. My oldest is about to be 18 this summer, and he is severely mentally ill. With all my kids, they really can push my buttons, but he’s been incredibly challenging. And there’s really been moments where I sit and think, “What is the purpose of this person in this world?” There has to be more than the level of stress that he brings, and the level of stress he experiences, and I really dislike him a lot of the times.
Tiphini: I love him very much.
Brandy: I mean, you’re writing a freaking book about him here.
Tiphini: Or I’m trying.
Brandy: Yeah, but you’re doing it.
Brandy: I mean, that’s an intense thing to think about. Maybe some of us take it for granted. When we have kids in healthy mental situations where we would never wonder what’s the purpose here?
Tiphini: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brandy: But to be a parent and wonder that about your child, which nobody’s telling you that before you become a mom. That that might be a possibility, that you might feel that way or have a child that leads you to feel that way?
Tiphini: Yeah. And I think even after the fact, people don’t tell you that. I don’t know that I’ve had this conversation with very many people, and they can not just relate to it, but be open to hearing that. Like it’s a big shameful thing.
Brandy: Have you said it to people, and they’ve been like, “Oh, but you don’t mean that?” Or how have people reacted to that?
Tiphini: I think I’m careful who I say it to. Now that I’m saying it on a podcast for everyone to hear. (laughing) Actually, no. What I’ve learned is the more that I am really open and really honest, the more people come out of the shadows to say, “Oh my god, me too.”
Tiphini: So, I have found some wonderful support online, of moms who are raising children like my son, who you can come to this online group and say, “Oh, my god, this really wonderful, seemingly benign to everybody else thing just happened to my child,” and we can all rejoice together. And then we can also come in there and say, “I just really want to fucking quit today, and I don’t think this person is ever going to get better. And if this was anybody else in my life, I wouldn’t let them stay in my life.”
Tiphini: But you have this weird tethered obligation, so it’s confusing.
Brandy: Yeah. Okay, so on the flip side, what’s your favorite part of parenting? What brings you the most joy?
Tiphini: I actually really enjoy seeing my children interact with each other. I was raised an only child. My husband is an only child. So, having four kids, when they’re not beating the crap out of each other …
Brandy: Right? Wait, didn’t we hear a story recently where someone pushed someone down the stairs and then that one punched the other one in the face?
Tiphini: Yes, that happened yesterday. So, my children did not make it to swim class because there was bleeding happening.
Brandy: And these are just messages that you’re getting while you’re on a retreat?
Tiphini: Yes. Just tidbits. Yeah, I love to see the way that they’re really gentle with each other in moments when they think no one is watching. And the ways that they stand up for each other and worry about each other, and just seeing them blossom into their own people, it’s pretty neat. Yeah.
Brandy: Yah. One more question before dinner. Sometimes it’s hard for us to allow ourselves to come on these retreats. So, I’m curious, how did you know it was okay for you to leave your family and come on these retreats? And I know this isn’t your first one.
Tiphini: I haven’t really been one to take up the shame of taking time for myself through motherhood. I’ve been a mom for almost 18 years, which is the entirety of my adult life.
Brandy: You had your first child at 19, right?
Tiphini: Yeah, pregnant just six months after turning 18 and had him right after I turned 19. So, I’ve always seen the value in holding space for myself and allowing myself to be someone outside of just a mom.
Brandy: How did you know that was okay? Why do you think you didn’t have the shame? Whereas a lot of moms do have the shame and like, “Oh, I don’t deserve that.” What do you think – do you think it was a personality difference or a survival mechanism?
Tiphini: Maybe both. And also, I did not see that happening for my mom and my grandmother. And just looking forward in my life, knew that I didn’t want to wrap my identity up around just my children, and then come out on the other end, not knowing who I was.
Brandy: You’re so smart. How did you … It was not modeled for you. Yet, did you see them struggle? For your mom for example, when she had no kids at home was she all of a sudden, like, who am I? And you’re like, I don’t want to be that lady.
Tiphini: I saw my mom just never be strong enough in herself to have her own persona. And so I saw her meld into whoever she was dating or married to at the time. She had a second child when I was much older, and I saw her go from – she had been a single mom raising me, to then all of a sudden being a stay-at-home mom who really lost herself, and then never really found a balance. She went to the total other extreme, into straight midlife crisis. So, I wanted to have a little more balance for my children. And also when I met my husband, when my oldest son was two, I remember when I first met him, saying, “My son will always come before you.” And then very quickly realizing that, that wasn’t always really healthy. Not that I would choose a bad partner over my child but if I chose to make a life with this person then I think that the most important thing was to keep that foundation really solid for our kids as well. And I think that translated over into myself. Keeping my own self really filled up in the strongest possible, is just going to make me a better mom.
(short musical interlude)
Brandy: So, I have Shaheera with me. She is somebody who I went to the last retreat with, who’s amazing, but I think one of my favorite things about you, there are so many, well, first you live in Australia. And so we constantly talk about the differences in language.
Brandy: And words that don’t mean the same thing here that they do there.
Shaheera: Yes, yes. And the fact that I speak really clearly and well, and I don’t understand anything you’re saying. (laughing)
Shaheera: Yes, that’s right.
Brandy: I’m the problem.
Brandy: Yeah, right. There are words that Shaheera doesn’t like to have people say to her or read.
Shaheera: And we don’t even need to talk about them. Let’s talk about Aquaman.
Brandy: Oh, we could actually talk about Aquaman.
Shaheera: Let’s talk about Aquaman.
Shaheera: And how do you say it?
Shaheera: No, you’re wrong.
Brandy: Right, okay.
Shaheera: Yeah, that’s incorrect because … Say the first word.
Shaheera: Then say the second word.
Shaheera: Okay. I don’t understand how you say the A’s differently in each word. So you say AW-KWUH, man. So, the A’s have different sounds and that doesn’t make sense because why would you be so inconsistent in such a short space of time? So, you should either say, AAH-KWA-MAN, like I say.
Shaheera: Because that make sense or AW-KWUH-MON, which sounds a bit Jamaican. I wonder how the Jamaicans say it?
Brandy: How will we ever answer that?
Shaheera: I’m not sure, do you know anyone Jamaican?
Brandy: Not at the moment, I don’t.
Brandy: I need to be making new connections at the airport tomorrow though. Maybe tomorrow at the airport, I can find somebody. I will go to the wing where there’s Jamaican Air. “Does anybody know how to say Aquaman here??” It’ll go over well. It’ll be great. I won’t be handcuffed and dragged off. Normal.
Shaheera: Okay, I’ll work on it. I’ll try, and find someone Jamaican as well.
Brandy: But you make a good point even though you’re wrong, but good point. Thanks. Thanks for that. But wait, I need for people to know that you work in a fucking prison.
Shaheera: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brandy: Yeah, you’ve got some great stories. Yeah. Hey, everybody out there Google “marbling.” Just I don’t know that I want to talk about it on the podcast but-
Shaheera: We can talk about it.
Brandy: This is where the podcast is like, what’s that one – Ear Hustle? All of a sudden, we’re on Ear Hustle.
Brandy: Okay, tell us about marbling.
Shaheera: Okay, I’m not sure if it’s an international thing. It’s definitely a thing that happens in Australian prisons and look, potentially the Australian community. I don’t know. I don’t really talk about it-
Brandy: Yeah, you do.
Shaheera: -in society. So, I was running a group for men that had been in jail, and we were doing an addictions course. So, a lot of them had had drug or alcohol addictions and for one reason or another completely unrelated to the course content, they decided to tell me about marbling, which-
Brandy: You’re so lucky.
Shaheera: I’m blessed. So, I didn’t know what marbling was, and I’m quite proud of the fact I didn’t know what marbling was. So, what it is, apparently, rumor has it prisoners get a glass jar or something that’s glass, and they break it. And they sand down the glass, so that it’s a sphere, a little sphere, and then it gets a bit painful. They get their penis and they get a razor, and they slice.
Brandy: I’m like, all of a sudden, why am I having you to tell this again because the first two times you told it, both times I’m like, (vomit sounds). Okay.
Shaheera: Yeah, no, no. It’s important to know.
Brandy: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shaheera: Yeah, they slice their penis open and they pop that little sphere in, so then they get toilet paper and they wrap the wound up, so that it will heal.
Brandy: The fresh marble in the cut?
Shaheera: Correct, yeah. They wrap it so that it will heal, and then when it’s healed, they start again in another spot. So, the ultimate goal is to have a penis that is decorated all over with marbles. Yeah.
Shaheera: And look, I guess this is the important aspect of it. The reason they do it is apparently …
Brandy: You’re saying apparently so many times that I feel like you know so much more about this, and you’re like, “I don’t know…”
Shaheera: And I’m in denial.
Brandy: “I’ve never … I wouldn’t know.”
Shaheera: I wouldn’t know, but I hear that-
Brandy: Your husband’s marbled, I know it.
Brandy: Yeah, hot.
Shaheera: They believe that it’s for the pleasure of their sexual partner.
Brandy: They’re so giving.
Shaheera: I know, right?
Brandy: They’re so giving.
Shaheera: I know.
Brandy: Oh can we tell them about the part about when you talked to the prisoner about it?
Shaheera: (laughing) So, I, like you, was quite horrified the first time I heard about it. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s disgusting. So I did say, “Why? Why would you do that?” And the guy said, “Well, for your pleasure,” and I’m like, no. No. Look, see if I saw a lumpy dick like that, there’s no way. There’s no way you’re putting your lumpy dick anywhere near me. Can you imagine seeing that man naked for the first time, and seeing him present that to you? Honestly, he’d look like he’d be diseased. That’s not normal.
Brandy: No, no, and we’re assuming even in that, that the wounds are healing nicely. Even in a nicely healed, marbled penis, that’s still alarming. But they’re not … With the toilet paper those wounds are not healing well. So-
Shaheera: There’s nothing good.
Brandy: Yeah, I know.
Shaheera: So, I guess the moral of the story is if you see a lumpy dick, run.
Shaheera: It’s not just in the case of people that have been marbled. Just as a general rule… if you see a lumpy dick, run.
Brandy: Right. This is a bigger universal issue.
Shaheera: I think I’m doing a community service.
Brandy: I think, yeah. Thank you.
Shaheera: You’re welcome.
Brandy: Thank you. All I’m gonna say is that if you want to make a little side cash, you should just sell marbles at your prison like contraband, you know?
Brandy: Like on the down low.
Shaheera: Yep. Look, it’s an option. I’m not really-
Brandy: Or sterile razors. You could offer this service – you could marble people. I mean, I’m just saying side money. I’m saying you want to take your kids to Disneyland or not?
Shaheera: Yeah, yeah. Look, it’s a possibility. It’s not really… I don’t want to. The end. (both laughing)
Brandy: “Please don’t make me.”
Shaheera: What are your questions for me?
Brandy: Okay. First question is what surprised you most about motherhood?
Shaheera: How much I learned about myself. I thought that motherhood was about raising another person and instilling them with values and morals and good stuff. Setting them up to be a good person. What I didn’t realize was that I would learn a lot about myself. And that continues to surprise me, and it’s a good thing. It’s a confronting thing. You’re prepared for all the bodily fluids, and you know-
Brandy: You are?
Brandy: After your prison stories, YOU were prepared for all the bodily fluids. This is so crazy. The only person who was prepared was the person who works with inmates. That’s really just genius right there.
Shaheera: But you know what’s actually really interesting is that inmates too teach me stuff about myself.
Brandy: Yeah. So, tell us what’s one thing that you learned about yourself through parenting?
Shaheera: I’ve learned that I can’t fix everything. I’ve learned that not everyone is me. I like to talk things out and communicate and over communicate. My parents didn’t communicate at all. So, I over communicate. Apparently there’s some middle ground which-
Brandy: I don’t know that middle ground either.
Shaheera: All right, yeah. And my kids are in the middle ground, and they wish that I was too, and they don’t like telling me stuff now that they’re turning into teenagers. And they tell me it’s because I like to over… I talk about too much. And I want to talk things through, and they hate that. They don’t want to talk to me about stuff – they don’t want to be lectured at. So, they just don’t tell me stuff. So, I’ve learned that I have to listen, and I need to hear them. I don’t need to talk all the time.
Brandy: Got it.
Shaheera: What else have I learned about myself? I think I have an anger issue, which I didn’t realize I had before.
Brandy: I think all of us realize that to a varying degree.
Shaheera: Yeah, I didn’t think I was an angry person, and I really hate that about myself. When it’s just you, no one pushes your buttons or people that do, you avoid, right?
Brandy: Exactly. You can cut them out of your life, and not go to jail.
Shaheera: But you can’t cut your children out of your life. It’s so difficult to have to address poor behavior and not get angry.
Shaheera: And I have not mastered that. I’m trying really hard and the things I dislike most about myself are those times when I get really angry and yeah, I’m really struggling with that. I just hate that I didn’t know that before. So, I hadn’t-
Brandy: But you had never been pushed before that.
Shaheera: True, true.
Brandy: I mean, I’m assuming. I’m sure there were moments, but to be pushed on a fairly regular basis.
Shaheera: Oh, my god, yeah.
Brandy: For years and decades.
Shaheera: Yeah, right? And constantly, and to have that in your house and have-
Brandy: Right. You can’t really get away from it.
Shaheera: No. And the thing that really irritates me is that they do it at like, you know…
Brandy: Your lowest moment?
Shaheera: Oh, my god. They, misbehave when there’s stuff to be done. We’ve got to do this school round. We’ve got to go to school. School starts as a certain time. We’ve got to be out of that house. Things have to happen, like shoes need to be worn, clothes need to be worn. The bags need to be packed, the hair needs to be done. Stuff has to be done. Like there’s no negotiables.
Shaheera: And they decide to have a tantrum then or get in my face then, and start having a meltdown over something. And you talk to people about it and they’re like, “Just let them do it, like leave it.” We actually don’t have time for them to have some time out, and for me to just walk away. We’ve got to be our the door two minutes ago. So, it has to be addressed then and there, and if it’s not addressed then and there, there’s a domino effect. They go to different schools, they’re different ages. So, then because one child’s misbehaving, that means the other child’s late for school, which means they get in trouble. Then I’m late for work, and then I get in trouble and the whole day is rubbish. And that’s before it’s nine o’clock in the morning. It’s just so frustrating.
Brandy: Especially to start the day like that.
Brandy: Like that’s just the whole temperature of the day.
Brandy: Right in the beginning.
Shaheera: That’s it. And how do you get through the day and actually be productive at work when you’re starting off your day that angry – and on the back foot? Anyway. So, that’s the fun stuff I’m learning.
Brandy: Yeah. What’s your greatest joy of parenting? What’s your favorite part of it?
Shaheera: Watching them achieve amazing successes, because they’re good people. One of them, actually, both of them, but one in particular, she won an award at her school twice, and it was called the Stand Up Award. And it was for standing up for yourself and standing up for other people, and for the entire school. Maybe she was eight or nine. And she went to a school of kids that were aged from five to 12, 13, and she won it twice because she stood up for other people, and it was just amazing. And interestingly, not the child… You know how you have a conception of who your child or who your children are, and what kind of people they are?
Brandy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shaheera: This was not my child who I thought would stand up for anyone.
Brandy: Oh, fascinating. Right.
Shaheera: So, when she won it, it was just incredible. And it just… I’m just so proud of her for being a good human. I’d like to take some credit. (laughing)
Brandy: I’m sitting here thinking, what is it about seeing our kids have these triumphs and these successes that really feeds our soul? And I think that there’s just something inherent about a being that you create doing good in the world. Like, that’s amazing.
Brandy: And also, I think that there’s this little thing that when they’re achieving things, it means that we’re doing our job in some way.
Shaheera: Yeah, right?
Brandy: It means that something we did was right.
Brandy: Because somewhere, somebody else, whether it’s somebody else deems that they’re doing this one thing right or whether it’s they feel a great success, or they’ve achieved something. If everything was shit, they wouldn’t achieve any of it.
Shaheera: That’s right.
Brandy: So, any achievement is like, we’re not all going to die today.
Brandy: It’s comforting.
Shaheera: It is so comforting, and it’s so nice to know that they’re going to go out in the world and be okay. When I’m not around they’re going to be okay.
Brandy: Exactly. Okay, so how do you know it’s okay to come to these and take time for yourself?
Shaheera: So, this is my second year and last year, I found it really hard. I really struggled with it.
Brandy: You felt guilty, or what?
Shaheera: Yeah, I missed them. I missed them terribly, and I felt that I was letting them down by being so indulgent – self indulgent. And they needed me, and I run the logistics of the household, so how is the household going to survive without me? Which is insane because they were fine. Their dad had it under control. I mean, having said that, I did set everything up before I left to ensure that everyone had it under control.
Shaheera: So, a lot of logistics and preparation went into it, to be honest. But I just missed them so much, and I just felt like I didn’t deserve the luxury of tapping out for a week.
Brandy: See, that right there, is exactly what I feel is at core of why many moms couldn’t even take two days, couldn’t go to a hotel with a friend.
Shaheera: Yeah, well, look, and this was the first time. I mean, how old am I? I guess my kids are 13 and 11 now. So, last year they were 12 and 10. My math is amazing. And that was the first time that I’d ever been away. Because-
Brandy: I didn’t realize that last time.
Shaheera: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, because I decided to be a mother. No one made me be a mother. No one forced me into it. It was a purposeful decision to be a mother for me. With that I felt and I still feel, in some aspects, that it’s my responsibility while they’re this age to be there for them.
Brandy: Like 24/7?
Shaheera: It depends what time of day you ask me that question. Right now? No.
Brandy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It sounded like you were going to say, “But this year, something was different.” What was different this year?
Shaheera: I did it last year. I got through it. Everyone lived, everything was fine. And you know what, actually, what else I did last year? I sent an SOS to the one mother that I knew. Layla, my eldest, she has a friend that she’s really close with and I had her mom’s phone number, and I sent her a message in the dead of night saying, “Can you just keep an eye out for her and just look out for her – and I’m away – and can you be there for her if she needs it?” And she was. And since then, she’s just been amazing. So, I think I reached out for help, and I have never asked anyone for help before.
Brandy: So, have you noticed that this trip you’ve been able to relax more?
Shaheera: Oh, my god, so much more. Yeah, I’m sorry, kids. I don’t miss you. I don’t miss them this time but I think I’ve given myself permission to do this. And yeah, it’s knowing that they survived last time.
Brandy: Once you do it, once you get over that hump of doing it and you realize that the whole world doesn’t fall apart, then we can soften our agreement about what our job entails.
Shaheera: That’s right. Even though I still think it’s my job to be there for them, I think I’ve had a shift in that it’s my job to be available for them. Not to necessarily be lurking around them, which as it turns out, they don’t like anyway.
Brandy: Yeah. So, that a win-win on that.
Shaheera: Apparently, yeah.
(short interlude music)
Brandy: As always, thank you so much for listening and supporting me. A few weeks back, I put out the call to my Adult Conversation Facebook page followers to leave me a quick voice message on SpeakPipe about their favorite hacks for surviving summer with kids. Sadly, there were no heavy breathers like I thought there would be, but there were two awesome moms that rose to the challenge, and here are their tips for you.
Cindy J.: So, this is Cindy Jackson, and we have a lot of kids. And one of my biggest tips is to set out a veggie tray about mid-morning with a cold pack underneath it, and let them graze all day. And then you don’t hear, “Can I have a snack?” every 20 minutes. Just change out that cold pack every time you make a pass through the kitchen for some coffee or whatever, and it has been an aggravation saver. Good luck.
Awesome Mom 2: Hi, Brandy. I’m not really sure if I can do this or not because my kids are only one and three, but something that we love to do during the summer – we have about a million ride on toys and trucks that live in the backyard and little random things that get played within the sandbox – and my favorite thing to make the kids do which is helpful and fun for them, is to throw them out there with a scrubby brush, the hose and a little bit of dish soap, and let them have a “car wash” with all of their outdoor toys. So, sometimes I have to help them scrub everything down, but it’s a great way to give them something to do. It takes a really, really long time and they think they’re having fun even though they’re actually cleaning the outside. If we have plastic toys inside, we throw them outside as part of the wash as well. So it’s a fun thing to do on a hot summer day.
Shaheera: I have sex with aliens.