Longing for a Red Tent
AWAKENING MORNING CHAOS
This morning I was awakened by our 4-year old son: “Mama, remember our plan?” The night before, as he resisted drifting off to sleep, I had promised him that in the morning we would go down to daddy’s truck and he could show me the treasure that his friend had given him the day before. I had also asked him if he could please not wake up early, in order to do so. He said that he would do his best, but that he couldn’t promise anything. 6:55 a.m. was a good compromise, but my body yearned for a few more minutes of transition from sleep to wakefulness before jumping into the demands of the day (and a 4-year old). I was hoping to convince him to snuggle for a bit—and, it seems, he was on the same page: “Mama, scoot over, there’s no room for me here. You don’t want me to fall off the bed, do you?” As we lay contentedly delaying the inevitable point of no return; I sensed the slow, deep, rolling cramps that signaled the onset of my period.
Rising ever so slowly out of bed to ease the sense of vertigo I’ve been experiencing, my body felt the full effects of gravity. Heavy limbed, I made my way to the bathroom to prepare for my monthly release of blood. Our little one followed me cheerfully, chatting all the way: “Mama, first we’ll get dressed. Then we’ll get my treasure. I want a mean shirt today. No, that one’s too nice. I don’t like that one.” He traipsed downstairs, half dressed and returned with his cherished gift from his friend, one shin guard. His friend had kept the other one because “it was special, Mama.” He donned the treasured shin guard and returned to the task of finding the proper outfit for the day. At some point, I abandoned his quest and trudged into my closet to pull on something suitable for a bike ride to school. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to pull off the bike ride I had been looking forward to the evening before; but I was preparing nonetheless.
We transitioned downstairs to the kitchen. Our four year old’s tireless chatter didn’t let up as it transformed from a running dialogue into never-ending whining demands for help: “This shirt is mean but good. The other shirt is mean but not good. I need my black gloves. I don’t want to wear these pants. They look stupid with my shinguard. I want my hockey shorts.” I answered questions and bargained as I made lunches, dodging the open cupboards and my husband’s reach as he put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher: “I’ll help you find your black gloves after you finish eating your breakfast. You may wear your pants for our bike ride. It’s too cold for shorts. We can carry the shin guard in your bike basket and put it on after you arrive at school. Have you finished your breakfast?”
Our 10-year old read silently throughout. While my ears and nervous system loved the peaceful calm he offered, unfortunately reading Harry Potter didn’t get him dressed or fed or off to the bus stop on time. So, my husband and I added our own nagging voices to the increasing cacophony of a morning at the Knight household. I relieved the boy of his cherished book: “Mom, I’m at the battle of Hogwarts.” I wisely informed him that the battle would go on for at least a chapter or two and that the bus wouldn’t wait. He begrudgingly addressed the rest of his food: “I’m full of eggs. They are giving me a headache.” I gave him his vitamins and directed him to finish getting ready for school: “Brush your teeth, put on your socks and shoes, pack your bag.”
By this time, I had the lunches mostly made. Our 10-year old demanded, “I want an apple for snack. . .”
I roared at him, “I am not your servant. What do you say?”
My husband interjected, “He said please.”
I turned to our son and modeled: “Mom, may I please have an apple for snack?”
My husband wisely disengaged. Our son took my aggravation in stride, gratefully accepted his snack, and headed toward the door giving his love to us all.
In the interim, our 4-year old had stomped upstairs, upset with me for my lack of attention. Trying to avoid the complete meltdown that happens when he doesn’t get to say a “proper” goodbye, I called upstairs to him to let him know that his brother was leaving. He barreled downstairs, just in time to share his love. He reminded me of my promise to find his black gloves. Thanks to my “good luck finding things” gene, they were in the first place I looked.
“Please put on your shoes,” I told him.
“I can’t do it. I need help. You do it, Mama!” he replied.
“You did it by yourself yesterday,” I curtly responded—which resulted in tears.
I took a deep breath and gathered him in my arms. “I’m sorry, buddy. Can we share a hug and start over?”
He leaned fully into my arms, reaching his own around me. Our worlds righted in that moment and I resolved to lovingly help him with his shoes and sweatshirt and coat. As I plopped myself down on the floor to tie his shoes, I felt the full weight of the previous week’s activities all culminating in the onset of my period: packing for a family trip; negotiating ferries, cars, and planes; crying and laughing through the emotionally rich experience; the late nights, and my resulting vertigo—pure and utter exhaustion.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you to school today, buddy?”
“No, Mama! I want to bike ride.”
We eased our tandem bike out of the basement, donned our helmets and began the journey. Once we started, the gentle brush of the breeze on my face and the steady rhythm of the pedals comforted me. While I wasn’t my most energetic, I no longer felt as though I had been run over by a bus. Our son had my undivided attention and chatted happily to my back as he (sometimes) assisted with the pedaling. About three quarters of the way to school, I remembered a book by Anita Diamant that I had read more than a decade ago: The Red Tent. While the details of the book escaped in the resulting ten years or so, the concept stuck with me: a safe, sacred place where women gathered in community, sequestered during their monthly bleeding time. Occupants of the Red Tent were not required to participate in any of their typical daily activities/responsibilities. On the contrary, women were expected NOT to interact at all with others who were not in the tent with them. Food was brought to them. They rested, they communed, they were required to pause.
With each turn of the pedal, I more clearly envisioned a Red Tent of my own where I could (and would) press pause on my daily life while I rested. . .
I realize that many may see the sequestering and requirement to rest as a slight to women’s rights. I, on the other hand, long for a Red Tent. I yearn to honor my own cycle and to have a sacred time and space carved out to commune with other women, to share our stories—our trials and tribulations, our wisdom, to eat and laugh and drink and cry, together. In my daily life I set high expectations for myself—lists of tasks to accomplish, action steps toward my dreams, important things to do for myself and for others. I have children and a husband who want my undivided attention, a growing business that needs tending, clients that need focus, a spiritual practice that demands time, volunteer work that is constantly calling. Phones and screens and more screens that pull my attention from one thing to the next—life darting by in snippets—and an expectation of instantaneous response.
I deeply value the need for unstructured time and space. I have a practice of carving out time for creativity and quiet. And, yet, I easily get sucked back into do, do, do. . .now, now, now! I ache for some societal support—for permission to pause. I know I have the power to give myself permission, but I want more support than that—in fact, I need the support of my community. So often, despite the ability to instantly“connect” on social media, I feel alone and disconnected. What if I were expected to pause, connect with other women, and rest each month? What new possibilities might emerge if we made the time to regularly pause and connect with each other?
I know there are many possible logistical questions that may arise in the process of creating a Red Tent—like who gets to come inside? What about those who identify as women but who don’t menstruate? Is it required? And what about a tent for men and those who identify as male? Should tents be gender neutral? I don’t have all of the answers; I just know that I feel this aching, deep in my bones to rest and rejuvenate in community. And I know that each time I create an opportunity for women to gather in community; we all flourish. We unearth deep emotions, we spark new insights, we discover new solutions. We talk, we laugh, we cry, we sing, we sit in silence. We come together and we heal. I imagine what our world would look like if we, as a society, embraced this concept—if we carved the time from our individualized “me, me, me” lives to create sacred communal spaces.