In the past few days, there has been a lot going on in this country. Open acts of violence and racism. Since the election, there’s been a lot of insidious things that have come to light. Things like Klan meetings that have been going on quietly for years. Things like neo-Nazi groups that suddenly feel comfortable holding open rallies because they feel their president and their fellow countrymen condone their behavior. And while it’s despicable, I think, in the long run, it might be a good thing.
I think the political correctness that society imposes on us can sometimes be a good thing. I think it tells us that we can’t say awful things to other people. It shames us into keeping quiet, even when we’re making judgments about other people. But here’s the problem with all this. Because we have shamed racism out of so much of our language, a lot of privileged people forgot how racist the country still was. I think there were a lot of quiet problems underneath the surface, but now, they’re not secret anymore. And I think it’s a lot easier to get outraged when you can see what to be angry at. It’s a lot easier to combat problems we can all admit we have. So I think, in the long run, this presidency, this era of unrest, may be a good thing, if only to show us how dysfunctional everything is.
But, for now, there’s a lot of hurt in this country. A lot of things that break my heart. And I want you to know that as a white male, you’re the oppressing class. There’s a lot that you’re going to be responsible for when you get older. You may not be a bigot yourself, but it may be up to you and people like you to change the system from the inside out. It’s not your fault, you sweet, innocent baby. But it is your responsibility.
Sometimes I hate how little I seem to be able to do about these big issues while I’m busy and exhausted being a mom. But I know raising you in love and joy is the important job I can do to help the world. Raising a member of the oppressing class to be kind, empathetic, loving, that is making the world better. So here is my act of activism, being your mother.
I think we have lost the art of grandmothers. Maybe the internet stole the need for wisdom, maybe religion stole the need for intuition, maybe the world stole the truth that there is divinity in our hips. My grandmothers were hollow. Their kitchens were cold. I would never call them for help. And as my son was born, so was a grandmother.
Grandchildren are even more revealing than children, I think. Grandchildren show what kind of people your children turned out to be,what kind of parents they grew into. Watching your children be parents shows you what your parenting lacked. The never-ending cycle that we create people who create people of their own, and we can only hope they turn out okay. That they still want us around at that point. That we planted healthy seeds.
I imagine a world where I had a grandmother or two that had dirt under their fingernails, kitchens full of herbs and warm bread and wine. Women that had been around to help raise me to love the moon and recipes passed down for generations. Women that had taught me to love the strength in other women. Women who would ease my mother’s pain and make her motherhood sacred. But I didn’t have that. I can only hope that through creating an ‘adopted’ family around me, that my child will have a grandmother. A grandmother that teaches me to be a mother that will grow into the grandmother I never had.
Today, though the toddler magic you weave through this house is pure light, I was a bundle of tears much of the day. I get that way sometimes, caught up in the joy of watching you grow, but also crying for things that never were.
About a year before we got pregnant with you, I got pregnant. It was a strange feeling. It felt like fear. I held the pregnancy test in my hand, and was both overjoyed and scared. I started painting the border on the bedroom you now claim, folding origami stars to cover the ceiling, readying the space. Something didn’t feel quite right, but I decided I would surprise your father with the finished room and the pregnancy test. I worked for days, calculating how far along I was, guessing at gender all the while.
And then, at the 11-week mark, as I had half the ceiling finished, I felt this incredible pain in my abdomen. I can’t remember how long it lasted, me in the bathtub, crying under the shower. I remember the blood. But I knew well enough to know this is why people don’t tell anyone before 12 weeks. There was nothing I could do. Sometimes these things just happen. I hadn’t told your father. Hell, I had barely just found out myself. And I was losing everything. It took me a long time to tell him. It was my private grief. I had this feeling it would have been a girl. I would have called her Stella. The loss, the loss, the loss.
Sometimes I see glimpses of what that little girl might have been when I look at you. The way you have that tiny blonde curl at the nape of your neck. The way the bottoms of your feet look when you place your foot in my hand so I will kiss it. The way you laugh. And god I miss her.
I know that if we had had her, we probably wouldn’t have had you. I know the future would have looked completely different. And I know my life is so good right now that I really am grateful for how everything turned out. But some days, like today, I look at that dream life and mourn that little soul I’ll never get to hold. But I hope you know that inspires me to give you the best life possible, and hold you even tighter.
I started reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, and, as I expected, I’m loving it. But, a lot of what I didn’t expect is being stirred up in me, too. The approach to home being just as important as what we eat or wear has always made sense to me. The effect that your space has upon your life, and the way our things reflect who we are are both ideas that I have routinely talked about. And as cathartic as I find decluttering and throwing things away, I was really quite excited to start ruthlessly getting rid of things. But what I didn’t expect was how much this book would make me evaluate my life.
Part of the KonMari method is imagining the life you want in very concrete terms. An example the book gives is a woman who describes the life she wants as “feminine”, with a pink bedspread, a white lamp, aromatherapy baths and yoga after dinner. That concrete picture becomes quite important to shaping the next steps of creating space for that life. And while that urge to create a space for life and joy was why I bought the book in the first place, I realized I didn’t have a picture in my brain of how I want things to be. I have broad terms of the life I want: family-oriented, joyful, spiritual, soft. But I can’t even identify a style of my own.
For most of my life, the things I owned were either tightly controlled by authoritarian parents, or they were cheap, functional possessions that we found to make do in the depths of poverty. As a child, I was not allowed to decorate my room in any other way than how my father chose, so I really didn’t develop a taste for what I like. And then when I moved out and got married, we couldn’t afford much. So our house is filled with ugly couches we found on the side of the road, cheap bookshelves to hold the few precious books we own, and kitchen items we’ve collected piece by piece over the years. The house doesn’t have a cohesive style at all. Heck, the only room that really looks like it was planned in any way is the baby’s room. Don’t get me wrong; I adore this house. And we have had a lot of fun finding creative solutions to make our house warm and hospitable. But, after reading some of this book, I realize if I was set loose in IKEA with a blank check, I would be unable to tell you what my style is like, or pick a group of things that went together in a way that I think would look nice in my home.
So I’m doing a lot of contemplating what’s important to me, what activities I’d like to make space for, what kind of life I want. I’m poking around on Pinterest, seeing what I like, trying to do some creative imagining about what this home could say about me. And then I’ll continue with the book and throw things away and do all that delicious decluttering. But for now, it’s time to design my world.
I’m not sure why it seems more thoughtful to critique and pick apart and disagree with an academic paper than it is to commend good work. I’m not sure why depressed artists seem to have the worthiest poems and paintings and songs, whereas happy art is “trite” and “one-dimensional”. I’m not sure why it seems deeper to admit that I’m not okay than it is to truly say that I’m finding a world of joy. The depths I’m finding are beautiful and spacious, yet when a friend asks me if I’m okay and I can say, “I really am,” it doesn’t seem to be the deep, friendship-building conversation that secret pain is. I suppose the depths of my joy are secret, too, but those seem like bragging or insensitive gushing when shared.
While I definitely think the darker side of things needs to be explored, I think there has been a recent shift that makes pain more “worthy” than joy. It seems as if we have created a generation that believes that happiness is something only oblivious, rich, boring people have. We all say we’re searching for happiness, yet happiness creates no intrigue, no drama. And when we get all the things that are supposed to make us happy, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.
I am finding joy lately. Deep, lasting, nuanced joy. Maybe the difference in vocabulary is meaningful here. Maybe everyone searching for happiness will always keep chasing, because happiness is a momentary feeling that can be achieved by a cheeseburger but dissipates quickly. I think joy is a long-term deal. A life of joy is not one devoid of sadness, but, rather, one that can find contentment and meaning. I have a teething toddler. My life is by no means happy much of the time lately. But I do think I’m living a life of deep joy. I am living the life I want most of he time, and, when I don’t, I can see myself steering my boat in that direction and taking time to enjoy the ride. I live in a little house in a little town with a little boy and his father. I have a witchy little garden with big, rough borage leaves and little wisps of chamomile to make tea for my family. I am deepening my spiritual self every day, finding my awareness constantly more open. I do yoga with my son every day. I have more than enough, and I see that abundance increasing. I have found and made a beautiful life.
I suppose I wish these things could be said without seeming trite. I wish I could still be seen as a woman with a story worth telling, even when my story is sweet. I hope my son won’t grow up thinking he has to be sad to be interesting. But, for now, all I can do is embrace my joyous, abundant world, and be okay with being quietly boring for awhile.
You are a boy. And while I know there’s a lot of negative things about gender stereotypes and all that, I want to talk to you about what being male means to me. Masculinity, in my opinion, is a responsibility. Because humans are built differently based on gender, males tend to be bigger and physically stronger. So, because you are given strength, you are responsible for being gentle. The gift of strength needs to be used for protection and fierce love, and I hope you know I expect that of you. You are a white boy. You’re the oppressing class. So I expect you to use your privilege to protect weaker parties and give them what you can. I expect this of you.
I want you to know all this because I have a burning anger in me today. A friend of ours, (I won’t name her to protect her identity, but you know and love her), came to me yesterday and told me that a man had violated her. A man who professed love and was supposed to be her friend. And when he texted her later, he apologized. Not for assaulting her, but for the ‘misunderstanding’. And I realized that he probably regretted doing something his girlfriend might find out about, but probably didn’t think of himself in the category of rapist. We live in a society where women are told what a huge, emotional, connective experience sex can be. Men are told that it’s not that big a deal. So when women are altered forever, there are men that merely regret the ‘misunderstanding’, if they regret anything at all.
That man didn’t temper his strength with gentleness, with listening. He didn’t think about what she wanted. He didn’t think about the spiritual thing that he was marring. And if I do anything right as a parent, you will never make that mistake. I’m not going to be a Puritan about sex, I’m not going to tell you to wait until you’re married, I’m not going to add the stigma of guilt to sexuality. But what I am going to tell you is that sex is spiritual. And if you hold that idea in the same tender hands that a woman does, it will both be using your masculinity to protect and nurture, but it will also be a beautiful connection. I want that beauty in your life when you’re ready and you have someone you love that’s ready too.
Maybe I was too young
Not much worth getting angry about
A mantra to cover sublimation
Whenever is good for you
I’ll keep checking in
I’ll wait on you
I’ll make whatever you like
(If an absence of inconvenience
Is grounds for affection)
Taking up only a sliver of the bed
Compacting my spine
Trying to waste away
Just so I won’t have to be the nag
Buy me something pretty
Think about me first
But maybe I’m too young
And to pliable
To take up space yet
(But maybe I won’t be