Browsed by
Category: Mothering

She’s with her

She’s with her

My daughter loves Hillary Clinton. I would like to be able to profess the same, but I cannot. Without question, Clinton has my vote because I believe she is beyond qualified and capable, and frankly, envisioning her presidency does not fill me with the same sense of terror as envisioning a Trump presidency. Although I am not opposed to voting third party, I find the current round of third party candidates underwhelming, at best. That said, I do feel there are substantive areas of concern when it comes to Clinton (and I am not talking about the ridiculous claims about her health), and these things are enough to keep me from declaring enthusiastically, “I’M WITH HER!” For me, it’s more of a resigned “I’m with her, I guess.”

My kid, though? Mention Hillary Clinton to her and she becomes the real-life version of the smiley face emoji that has hearts for eyes. She reserves this reaction for precisely two other people: 1) a certain male celebrity whom I cannot name because it would embarrass her, and 2) Elizabeth Warren. When it was announced that Clinton and Warren would be appearing together in New Hampshire earlier this week, I knew I had to take her to see them. Even though the line was ridiculously long, and the crowd so large we were lucky just to be able to see the tops of their heads, I was really grateful to be there, to be sharing that moment with my daughter.

Not to trivialize the importance of the event, but being at the rally felt akin to when I took my daughter to see the new Ghostbusters movie a few months ago. I left the movie theater that day feeling nothing short of giddy that finally, finally! there was a movie that allowed women to be adventurous, smart, and ambitious, and it did not focus on their bodies or the idea that any of these characters were in need of a boyfriend/husband. No one can claim this film is some cinematic masterpiece, but I believe the arrival of a movie like this was necessary and long overdue, not unlike having a woman as POTUS.

Almost eight years ago now, I watched President Obama give his victory speech on TV. I was completely overcome with emotion and could not stop myself from weeping. Aside from crying over the historical weight of the moment, I know part of me was also crying for myself, for a childhood where I never, not once, saw myself represented in the world. I couldn’t help but think of all the kids in this country who looked like me and were now learning this about themselves: you belong here too. And this is what I was thinking of when I was at the rally, listening to the person who is likely to become our first female president. If Clinton is elected, my daughter will only remember her and Obama as the presidents during her childhood, two people whose race and gender would have automatically prevented my nine-year-old self from even being able to imagine them in those roles.

My daughter is still too young to completely understand what it’s like to move about the world as a woman (thankfully), and I harbor no illusions that a female president will somehow make misogyny disappear. To the contrary, I think we are likely to learn exactly how misogynistic our culture really is, just like Obama’s presidency reminded us how rampant racism is. Watching my daughter’s face, though, when she saw Clinton arrive and wave to the crowd, seeing her smiling and clapping when Warren was calling out Trump’s vicious behavior, well, it was pretty hard for me not to feel hopeful. We were part of a crowd of thousands, all there to support a woman who is trying to achieve what has so far remained unachievable. Although I still have my reservations about Clinton, the significance of what we were a part of was not on lost on me. To my daughter, a Clinton presidency is not just about the results of an election, it’s a symbol of what a girl can accomplish, a powerful reminder that she, and all girls, have so much to offer; it’s a clear message: you belong here too. How could I ever vote against that?

A Certain Kind of Guilt

A Certain Kind of Guilt

There is a certain kind of guilt I have. I’m not always aware it’s there, but I am reminded of it often. Too often. It surfaces when I am helping my daughter comb through her light brown curls, and in the background, I hear someone on the radio talking about a black child who was killed by police. The guilt comes on strong when I stare into my daughter’s grey-green eyes as I tuck her into bed, only to return to my computer where I read about another black man whose hands were in the air as he was shot by the police anyway. I feel the guilt when I see my daughter in a swimsuit, her perfectly tanned skin an acceptable shade of brown- a shade white girls would pay for- and I think of black girls at a pool party being manhandled by police. The guilt is there, too, when my daughter wears her favorite hoodie and I am reminded of overzealous neighbors with guns who patrol the streets in search of black boys.

The truth is, what I really feel is relief, but this kind of relief is inseparable from guilt.

My daughter is free to move about her world. Her white skin offers protection that she is no more deserving of than anyone else, but it is there all the same. It’s a matter of luck, I know, that things will be easier for her because there are already systems in place that make it so. There have been occasions when my brownness went unnoticed and I was assumed to be white, and at those times I also benefited from those systems. But unlike my child, I can’t hide my black quite as easily. The white of me did not prevent one of the kids in my Girl Scout troop singling me out as “the chocolate one.” It did not stop a classmate from looking disgusted as she told me I had “big lips like a black person.” My daughter is white so she will not have experiences like these. The black of her does not show.

Relief.

Guilt.

Like most mothers, I want to spare my child from heartache. But it is as wrong of me to feel grateful for my daughter’s skin color as it is for blacks to be killed because of theirs. I know this; this is where the guilt comes from. I am not sure what this guilt says about me or the kind of parent I am. I am not sure this guilt serves any purpose at all. I just know the stories of racial injustice are circular, apparently without end, and yes, sometimes, I shamefully allow myself to retreat into the safety of her whiteness.

Starting school & Starting over

Starting school & Starting over

Shortly before my marriage ended, Simi decided she would like to go to public school. She has only homeschooled, and although that hasn’t always been perfect, it is something that has worked well for us, and definitely suited her introverted and overly-independent personality. Today, I dropped her off at school for the first time. I am grateful that it was her decision to go to school because, of course, the divorce happened, meaning she was going to end up there whether she wanted to or not. And I am equally grateful she was assigned to the school we most wanted, a place where she already has friends. I’m sure, like homeschooling, it won’t be perfect, but it’s really the best case scenario for the situation we find ourselves in.

About that situation, though…

I want to be happy for this moment in our lives, this big change that really marks the start of something new for us, but I just can’t. Every beginning is an ending of some kind, and I just can’t get myself into a celebratory mood when it’s such a blatant reminder of the end of my marriage. Yes, it was my kid’s decision to attend school, but it’s the divorce that makes it so she will have to stay there. Whereas before she could have “tried” school and gone back to homeschooling, now it’s what she has to do. It’s the same reason she quite suddenly had to take on twice as many household chores when her dad moved out.

I want to be clear, I am not at all against my kid going to school or having to do housework, those things themselves are not the issue. The issue, quite simply, is divorce is really, really hard. There’s a big difference in being able to be deliberate in my decision-making and having decisions made for me, and, in turn, forcing my child into situations in which she has zero say. It may not be rational, but I think it’s likely I will never stop feeling guilty about putting my daughter through this. I can’t think of a part of her life that hasn’t been touched by this divorce- whether it’s adjusting to new weekend and holiday routines, or learning to live with a lot less because there’s not as much money to go around- and it just makes me feel awful.

Last night, I overheard Simi talking to her dad on the phone. He had called to wish her luck on her first day of school, a gesture that made me happy and sad at the same time. I am really glad my kid has the kind of dad that thinks to do those things, the kind of dad that still takes fatherhood seriously. Still, I couldn’t help but think, It’s not supposed to be like this. 

It’s been well over a year since everything fell apart so I am sometimes surprised when the sadness hits. I don’t know if all of the major losses in my life have snowballed into one gigantic one, making it harder for me to move on, or if the end of my marriage is just harder to accept than all of the others. I do know, however, that it takes as long as it takes and there’s really no way to speed up the process. I have no choice, really, than to let the grief unfold regardless of how long and excruciating it feels. Truthfully, I feel mostly OK most of the time. If I’m not happy, I am at least hopeful. In spite of everything Simi and I have been through in the last year, we are still in pretty good shape, both ready to start over together.

 

 

 

Words I don’t want to hear: Boys are easier.

Words I don’t want to hear: Boys are easier.

I have heard, more times than I can count, “It’s easier to raise boys.” These words have come from pregnant women and fathers-to-be, the childless, and people who have already done the work of growing their children into adults. This is, I think, one of those things we are just supposed to accept about the world. Boys are easy to raise; girls are not. For a time, I believed this was the truth about childrearing. I had heard it so often I never really thought to question it. Many years ago, though, a pregnant co-worker of mine expressed gratitude for knowing she was carrying a boy because it would be “so much easier” than raising a girl. For some reason, on this occasion, I was taken aback. Although she acknowledged a healthy baby was what really mattered, the amount of relief she seemed to feel over knowing she would be spared the difficulties of raising a girl seemed pretty strong. I couldn’t help but wonder if her relief was disproportionate to the actual work of raising any child. I wondered if she was right to feel so relieved. Could raising a girl really be that much harder?

I’m going to disregard the (hopefully obvious) problem with making the assumption that sex and gender are one in the same. Clearly, when people speak of boys being easier than girls, they are basing it on cisgender expectations. While the topic of gender expectations is certainly worthy of discussion, it’s not what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about this idea that the level of difficulty in parenting is somehow determined by the child’s gender.

When I became pregnant, I wanted a girl. Yes, I would have loved a boy with just as much ferocity, but I wanted a girl and I got one. My daughter is crazy smart. She’s shy. She loves history and she has an incredible knack for sarcasm. She has a misogyny detector that is off the charts. But these aren’t the things you can see. You can see her gorgeous head of curls, though, so I often hear things like, “Oh, you better watch out when she gets older.” I know this is intended as a compliment, as if I have made some sort of accomplishment by bringing a pretty girl into the world, but I certainly don’t hear it as a compliment. Instead, I think of all the times I was told how hard it is to raise girls.

The truth of the matter is it is hard to raise girls. My daughter already knows she is more likely to be judged by her looks than by her character. She knows about catcalls and how much harder it will be for her to peacefully walk down the street than it will be for her friends who are boys. This is the reality for girls and women, and it is absolutely the result of patriarchy. Sure, I can tell my daughter she can grow up to be anything she wants, but I would be doing her a real disservice if I neglected to tell her about all of the ways it won’t be fair for her because she is a she.

It’s not difficult to compile a list of the many injustices women regularly face. There are statistics about salaries. Slut shaming. Victim blaming. Lies about “having it all.” Mommy wars, and guilt, and on and on. Of course, making it to womanhood is a feat in and of itself.  We have to first spend our childhood years being told we should like pink and Disney princesses. By adolescence, we have to habituate the act of comparing our bodies to our peers’. And let’s not forget the many dangers of having sex, and how any unwanted resulting consequences are entirely our fault. These things seemingly make the case for why people are right to say raising girls is harder. But what are we really saying when we say it’s easier to raise boys? What we really mean is:

We are perfectly content with the status quo.

We are comfortable with the patriarchy. 

We accept rape culture.

We know boys will be boys.

What we are really doing when we allow ourselves to believe it’s easier to raise boys is giving them a free pass to behave badly.  If bringing up boys is, in fact, easier, it’s only because we allow it to be so. We wouldn’t call it easy if we were committed to raising our sons in direct opposition to the ridiculous allowances our society makes for them. No, it shouldn’t be difficult to teach our young men about consent. It shouldn’t be difficult to teach them they alone are responsible for their actions. It shouldn’t be difficult to teach them they are not owed one damn thing by any girl or woman, ever, but in actuality these are hard concepts to instill.

When the news came out about the Stanford rape case, I shared in the collective outrage.  I cannot recall a time I felt as much fury at a stranger as I did when I read the letter the rapist’s father penned.  Indisputably, this particular injustice is fueled by affluence and white privilege. I suspect, though, there’s a lot more to the story. More than wealth and race, I am absolutely convinced the Turners are content with the status quo. The Turners are comfortable with the patriarchy. They embody rape culture and now they have the audacity to believe they have been treated unfairly because, hey, boys will be boys.

Because of the actions of Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, we have been reminded of the importance of not being a bystander. Indeed, it is terrifying to think of how the victim’s story could have ended if not for these two men. But we don’t have to wait until we are in the midst of something horrific before we act. If you want to avoid being a bystander, start by questioning the next person you hear claim “boys are easier,” or ask yourself why you believe it. Don’t dress your infant son in a “Future Ladies Man” onesie no matter how humorous you think it is. And if you think it’s important to talk to your daughters about birth control, rape, drinking responsibly, and presenting themselves “respectfully” in public, then it needs to be just as important to have these conversations with your sons.

I won’t dispute the fact that our society was designed (by males, of course) to be advantageous to boys and men, but I refuse to accept that it must remain that way. We can and should hold our boys to higher standards than we currently do, and we can definitely stop making excuses for their behavior. We start by not allowing the words “It’s easier to raise boys than girls” to be our reality.

Identity

Identity

I recently shared my daughter’s decision to quit homeschooling in favor of attending public school, along with some of the difficulty I am having with that decision. The time has come for us to enter the BPS lottery so we have been talking about school a lot lately. The other day we were on the topic of diversity and during this conversation, my daughter revealed to me that she feels “pretty much white.” This is a change from how she has previously identified. For as long as she has understood racial identity, she has claimed her 1/4 blackness. Of course, this new declaration of self is not a surprise; in many ways it’s inevitable. A stranger would not look at my child, especially in my absence, and assume she was anything other than white. And she is, in fact, mostly white. Nevertheless, I am having a lot of conflicting feelings about this.

While I understand how and why my daughter arrived at this conclusion about herself, there is a tiny part of me that feels rejected. It’s senseless, I know, and it undoubtedly says more about me than her. This is not something I should take personally, but it always felt kind of sweet when she claimed that part of herself that came from me. In some ways, it was an expression of our connection to one another, a simple way to acknowledge we belong together. I suppose, at the heart of this, is the issue of separation. Sometimes it feels like motherhood is nothing but dealing with separation over and over again. And this is just one that hurts a little more than others.

There is, of course, the issue of privilege. I am not a stranger to this because I know there have been times when I was mistaken for white, or pretending to be so, and that was used to my advantage. My daughter, though, doesn’t need to pretend. She can just say she is white and no one will ever suspect otherwise. I don’t think she really understands what this means, though. She knows about racism, and she knows about some of the racist encounters I have had. I’m just not sure she is able to fully grasp what a privilege it is to be able to just get to decide to be white. And I am not sure I know how to teach her that.

I feel shameful for admitting to this, but there is also a part of me that simply feels relieved over my daughter’s racial identity. It’s a terrible feeling, and I know it comes from wanting to protect her from some of the things that I went through as a child. She may have difficulties in life, but they thankfully won’t be rooted in racism. I’m sure this feeling of relief is, in part, due to internalized racism. As an adult, I have an awareness of this concept, but awareness does not equal relinquishment. I cannot reflect upon my childhood without feeling the hurt of being unwanted, or knowing I did not belong because of my brown skin. Obviously, I am glad my daughter will be spared those experiences.

All of my concerns may be unwarranted as my daughter’s childhood does not resemble my own in any way. She will not be attending an all-white school, and multi-racial children are most definitely not the rarity they once were. Still, I think a lot of parents will tell you it is often hard to step away from our own life experiences and look at things objectively. We can’t predict our children’s futures, so our past is what we have to go on. For me, this means issues of racial identity are a big deal. I know race is only one of many descriptors my daughter will have throughout her life, but it is an important one. Our country, both in the past and present, have made it so. Race does matter, and I won’t pretend otherwise in my parenting. I hope my daughter, white or not, always remembers this.