The women who raised me cannot be condensed into one of your words, one of your labels you give women to keep yourself safe from their power. You cannot call them mothers or wives or aunts or feminists or housewife or soft or rough or challenging or emotional. They refuse to fit into the suffocating construct society has pushed onto them; and they have taught me to do the same.
They taught me there is strength in waking each morning, that beauty exists in the delicate parts of life, the garden, in the trees, in the walks, in the blueberry picking. They taught me there is more to life than putting a shirt on the right way. That it is better to be compassionate than wear lipstick. They taught me that I do not need to silence myself, to bite my tongue until I taste blood just to find a man who loves me.
But they have also taught me what equality will mean when I find a man with enough courage to love me. That you cannot change someone, you can only love them. That you cannot change yourself to find love. That you must not change yourself to feel needed.
With their lives, these same women showed me the power of consistency, that sometimes an act of love is as simple as a dish of deviled eggs each Christmas. Other times, love means eating the undercooked corner of lasagna. Or love is more visible, the lines that paint their sides where their bodies stretched to hold infinite love. Sometimes love is the sacrifice that runs so deep only these women know they carry it.
The women who raised me found peace in dichotomies: yoga mats and cigarettes, acupuncture and chocolate cake, feet pounding on a treadmill followed by a spill of rum.
The women who raised me were not fearful, did not hide their love as if apathy was a sign of life. They did not fail to show me that strength does not come from hiding your truth in the soles of your feet but painting it with every shade of grief and love you were given.
These women built me, constructing me piece by piece, each moment adding length to my spine, bending vertebrae with their tales of grief and rooting me so deeply into this earth, I could not forget who planted me if I tried.