I wrote this a year ago as a guest post for the amazing and beautiful Hasty Words. I’m sharing it again because the death of David Bowie reminded me the importance of being a rebel…
“And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”
-Elton John, Your Song
My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.
Six months later we lost my Grandfather. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant.
The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.
Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.
I was scared out of my mind. I had spent my high school years babysitting, but I felt like I didn’t know how to do this, being a parent. I was responsible for this other person and I felt inept and inadequate.
I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.
I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.
Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as a possible threat. Could it happen to him, my baby?
And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.
As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.
Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.
I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.
I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.
I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing in my purse for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.
I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.
I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.
I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing.
We raised him for the last 14 years, but more importantly, he raised us.
I’ve grown in to motherhood. My husband has grown into fatherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure our learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching us how to be parents.
As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.
Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.
Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.
Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.
Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.
Thank you for being you.
Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.
There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?
Every. Single. Time.
And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?
I think I’ve figured out why.
They don’t know.
They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.
Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.
We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.
It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.
It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.
So maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s ages actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.
So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing. Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.
We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.
We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.
It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.
It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.
We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell your friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.
But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.
It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.
It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.
It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.
It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.
It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.
It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.
It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.
It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.
It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.
It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.
It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.
It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.
It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.
It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.
It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.
Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it to ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.
The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?
So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on regular basis.
Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.
It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.
Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.
Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.
We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to? That guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.
Guys, this is what it means to be a woman. We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.
So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.
The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.
The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.
The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.
Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.
Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.
Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.
Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.
Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.
Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.
Sometimes, when my phone rings or I get a text during the school day, my heart stops for a minute.
At my first high school football game, four people were shot. My parents were horrified and scared. They tried to find a way for me to switch schools. I didn’t want to. I loved my school and I was proud of it, in spite of it’s tarnished reputation. My senior year, a former student was shot and killed at the entrance to our school.
My parents put our house up for sale soon after that.
You see, my school was in a rough neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood that saw violence and crime on a daily basis. As soon as they could afford it, my parents moved so my younger brother could go to a school without the threat of gun fire. They found a smaller town with less crime and a safe place to live.
That was in 1991.
Now, no one’s safe.
No neighborhood or town is immune to stray bullets or bullets aiming to kill.
Guns are in angry, itchy hands. Guns are stockpiled and guns are wielded over the slightest offense. And sometimes guns are in the hands of well meaning people who make mistakes.
Now, school shootings are common place.
As a parent, I’m not sure how to process that. Sometimes I’m scared to send my kids to school. I have fleeting thoughts as I’m saying good bye to them in the morning. This is a day just like any other day. I bet that’s what the parents at Sandy Hook thought. What are the odds that it would happen here, in our town? I bet that’s what the parents thought when their kids went to class at Umpqua Community College.
I received a text last week. I was mindlessly doing something else and didn’t rush to check the message. But then I had a thought… what if it’s my daughter crouched in a hiding spot, texting me to tell me about a shooter?
These thoughts pop into my head every now and then. How could they not? Since 2013 there have been more than 149 school shootings in America. My kids come home and tell me about Active Shooter Drills. My daughter tells me about trying to find the best hiding spot because it’s the one she’s supposed to use in the case of a real threat.
We are teaching our kids how to hide from an armed intruder in school. We refuse to take action, to have the hard conversations. We go about our days, sipping our lattes and shopping at Target. But we are ok with our kids practicing scenarios of death and carnage. We don’t demand that law makers finally do something, meanwhile a sick version of doomsday prepping has become a mainstay in our schools.
The method by which we safe guard ourselves and our children against the inevitable when guns are considered a right instead of a privilege? It’s no more than crossing our fingers, wishing on a star and pinky promises.
We are hoping that people will be responsible with their guns.
We are hoping they won’t pull out a gun in a fit of road rage.
We are hoping that they won’t fire on a shop-lifter in a crowded parking lot.
We are hoping that they will not leave them loaded and within arms reach of young children. Or anyone.
We are hoping that guns won’t end up in the hands of people with violent pasts and violent tendencies. We are living on a wing and a prayer that the people with guns actually know how to use them and when to use them.
We are basically using voodoo hocus pocus to keep our kids safe. To keep our country safe.
And it’s not working so well.
When I get the robo-call that my son’s school is on lockdown because a hunter wandered onto school grounds, I don’t feel safe. I feel terrified. Even after the police determine it was an honest mistake and not a threat, I’m still scared. What about the next hunter? Will he be careful? Will he make sure that when he aims his gun it’s not pointed in the direction of the school? I cross my fingers and hope.
When the people that own the land behind me target practice or hunt or walk right by our property line with big guns strapped to their back, I’m scared. Are they sane? Are they responsible? Are they making sure they aren’t aiming in the direction of my back yard? Is anyone who lives in their home suffering from delusions or severe anger? Are their guns kept under lock and key or fingerprint scanner? I have no way of knowing. When I hear gun shots ring out in rapid fire, I call my kids inside. And I say a little prayer.
When a neighbor gets held up at gun point down the street? My heart seizes up. My son and his friends had been on that very street within minutes of the robbery. They had been walking home to play video games. Should I not allow my high school age son to walk the streets of my neighborhood? Should I keep all my kids home out of fear and not let them ride their bikes or play in the woods behind my house? Should I try to wish away the problem?
No. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Common sense laws. Ones that require safety courses and universal background checks and close loopholes. These are some of the things that will help. Why is this so hard to swallow? Our kids hiding under a desk in fear is easier to consider? Kids being killed accidentally by siblings or in road rage incidents is preferable to legislation and enforcement?
We are not safe in our trigger happy country.
We have not created a safe environment. As parents and citizens, that’s our job. And we have failed. When you fail, you are supposed to change and adapt. You are supposed to fight your way back to a place that is beyond surviving. You are supposed to act, not cower with helplessness. You are supposed to do something beyond hoping and crossing your fingers or knocking on wood.
Our kids shouldn’t have to practice hiding from gunfire.
We shouldn’t be nervous when we send them to school. Or send them down the street. Or to a movie theatre or mall or anywhere.
We shouldn’t be complacent or repeat tired phrases and mantras that have been fed to us by wealthy men with big agendas that include making them money and have nothing to do with our best interests.
We shouldn’t be ok with the fact that death by gunfire has become common place.
When I send my kids off to school, or anywhere, I shouldn’t have to be afraid they’ll be next.
For more information on common sense gun laws and initiatives: http://everytownresearch.org
Ahhhh, that new school smell. It’s the smell of fresh starts, new beginnings and a few precious hours a day without someone needing something from us.
Don’t get me wrong. I love summer and having my three kids home with me. But in some ways I feel like I’ve been on a three month bender and now I’ve sobered up. My house looks like Miley Cyrus and Lindsey Lohan invited John Belushi over to party. My head feels foggy and I feel a little disoriented. I’m ready to shake off the fog and get back to a routine, back to being productive.
Hahahahaha. That’s funny isn’t it? The idea that school starts and we have all this time to do… whatever it is we all need to/want to/have to do. We fool ourselves every summer into thinking that life will feel normal again once school starts.
It’s funny/not funny because we forget that school can be a demanding and manipulative time suck.
School’s going to start emailing you. And robo-calling you. And sending letters home with your kids. They will ask you for things. Request your presence. They will teach your kids how to lay a guilt trip on you that would make a Catholic school nun blush. They will be relentless. School’s going to start looking like that college boyfriend that needed a restraining order.
I think it’s time to have a little talk with school. I think we can resolve this peacefully. We just need to clear a few things up and come to some kind of understanding. There are a few things that can be tweaked to make all of our lives a little bit easier…
The School Supply Lists
The list. How can I say this nicely… the school supply list has become an uptight, entitled snob who suffers from O.C.D. Damn. I don’t think I did that right. OK. Let’s try this again. The list is an asshole.
It gets a little worse each year. From specific colors of folders to name brand pencils and erasers. Did you know that there are brand name erasers? Yeah, me neither. Hey school, if you’re that anal retentive about erasers, you may want to get some help for that. *gives elementary school the side eye*
The Fund Raisers
I get it. Budgets being cut and all. Schools need more funds. I’m totally down with that. I’ll write a check. But the fundraisers? Some of them really crawl under my skin.
Our school outsources fundraising to a corporation. Under the guise of “character development” and “health and fitness” this company sends teams of annoyingly perky “athletes” to your school to conduct pep rallies and “classes.” Part of the character education apparently involves pressuring kids with the lure of classroom ice cream parties and bribing them with cheap plastic toys. Meanwhile, the parents are supposed to let the kids hit up Grandma’s pension fund so that almost half of her donation can feed the pockets of this corporation. Nuh-uh. Not happening. When I tell my kids that no, we aren’t soliciting our loved ones, they look at me in horror. You would think I had just told them that Santa killed the Easter Bunny and ate his liver with a nice Chianti.
I’ll write a check. But it won’t be to the jackhole who tried to turn my kid into a multilevel marketer.
My Attendance Is Not Required
Why is it necessary to request my presence at least once a month for some “event.” I’m with my kids all the time. They don’t need me to come to school to cheerlead for them every time they do something not extraordinary. In fact, they’d be a lot better off if they didn’t see mommy popping up at school, waving and beaming from the crowd. They aren’t Beyonce and JayZ at the Grammy’s. They are kids. In school. It’s pretty ordinary. So let’s chill on the obligatory parent fan club, ok?
My mom never had to come up to school during the day. There was no “Helicopter Parenting.” We managed to eat lunch, even on our birthdays, without our parents showing up. We can celebrate birthdays at home and the kids can tell us about their day over the dinner table. I don’t have to actually see and witness every thing they do. There’s a reason we took a blunt nosed scissor to the umbilical chord.
The Neverending Requests
There’s so much stuff. There’s always little items to send in for events and parties and theme weeks. The calendar the teachers send home reads more like an errand list. What to wear, what to bring in. Is all this “stuff”really necessary for learning? I’m all for making a lesson fun. I just don’t think you need “stuff” in order to do that. And let’s chill on all the celebrations. Hey, school, maybe if we didn’t have a party every month you could bring back music class?
All of this is kind of a pain in the ass for all the parents. But do you want to know why it really gets me worked up?
All of this smacks of privilege.
This is beyond a first world problem. This is a problem of privilege.
These things aren’t an issue at schools in poor neighborhoods. Teachers at Title I schools aren’t holding parties and asking parents for “stuff.” They have to worry about tired kids falling asleep during class because their belly is empty or their home life is too stressful for a good night’s sleep. Requests for 100 pretzels for the 100th day? Sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it?
And what about the kids that go to school in an affluent neighborhood but are on free or reduced lunch? How do you think they feel watching their classmates get applauded for raising money and rewarded because they have people in their lives who can donate? They have to sit through the sales pitches and the promises of rewards knowing that they can’t contribute. It makes me sick.
What about the parents who are busting their ass at work and can’t make it to the mid-day craft event in their kid’s classroom? Why should they have to try to juggle work and parenting in the middle of the school day?
Let’s Just Stop With All the Extras
For the teachers who just want to teach.
For the parents who have too much already on their plates.
For the kids who are always left feeling different because their parent can’t come to the event or their family can’t afford to buy extra items.
For the kids who are privileged. We aren’t doing them any favors by showing up and cheering them on for every little thing or by teaching them that a trip to the store is essential to learning. We aren’t helping any of the kids when the entitled continue to be coddled and applauded while the kids who have less continue to feel less than.
Let’s cut out all the B.S. and focus on the important things.
Let’s put the fundraising on the districts and the whole community, not the kids.
Let’s show the kids that they can be independent and thrive with their peers and their teachers. Show them that they don’t need mommy or daddy to make school a warm and nurturing environment.
I’ll send my kids to school ready to learn. You teach them. Simple as that.
The time is now.
Singularity is the new novel from Helena Hann-Basquiat, with Sara Litchfield, Sandy Ramsey, Lizzi Rogers and Hannah Sears.
Singularity is the sequel to last year’s JESSICA — a metafictional look into Jessica’s possible pasts.
Singularity is coming August 1, 2015
Last month we had our first #1000Speak For Compassion event. It was pretty huge. Well over 1000 people participated. It was everywhere.
And we’re not done.
This month our theme is “Building From Bullying.”
And as this post by Lizzi so beautifully says,
“In a culture where fear is prevalent, it is easy to act divisively; gathering ourselves into packs and declaring our separate-ness from those we find less palatable, and to an extent this is based on a survival tactic because it brings together a group who can help to protect one another, should the need arise.
But when we decry other people for their characteristics rather than their poor behaviour; when we use shame, humiliation or holding someone up for others to point and laugh at, it’s unkind, and it contributes to the bully culture by generating a power-pyramid. At the top, there are the stronger people, who decide which person is next in line to be condemned. At the bottom are the weaker, who must either participate, or remain silent hoping that their abstinence will be sufficient to mark their distaste.”
So, let’s do this.
Let’s continue to build the village.
Participation is open to anyone and everyone who wants to take part.
Click on this link and add your post. (PLEASE put your post in the link. This is the only archive of all of the #1000Speak posts.) Then Tweet it Share it, and include #1000Speak. Tweet and Share the posts that others have contributed. The more we write, the more we Tweet, the more we Share, the more we are heard.
Link up will be open until Noon GMT on Sunday March 21 (or 8am EST)