Category Archives: Empowerment

Pour a Little Coke on Your Windshield

Saturday morning, when it was time to start the three-hour drive to fetch Vivi from camp, G handed me his keys. “You drive? I’m still eh-sleepy.”

Not a problem. Except I HATE driving his minivan. I can’t see anything in that vehicle. There are extra mirrors stuck to the side mirrors. DVD screens that block the back window. Paper and shit hanging from his rearview mirror (seriously, he still has the car rider pass from two years ago up there). The air conditioning is set on 62 and blowing hard enough to sweep Dorothy out of Kansas. Every control is opposite from my car. He puts the parking brake on even when he’s parked on flat ground. Makes me nuts but that’s why it’s his car and not mine.

I got over all of that stuff by the end of our driveway, but as soon as I started going up the hill to leave the neighborhood, the sun hit the windshield and I was blinded by…schmutz. Not rain or dew or ice…just blurry gunk.

I searched blindly with my left hand for the wiper/washer control. “What are you doing?” he sighed from the passenger seat.

“Trying to clean the windshield–it’s got crap all over it. I can’t see.”

“It looks fine to me,” he retorted, then showed me the wiper control. The wash helped some but I still felt like I was peering through a gray haze.

In the drive thru while we waited on breakfast, I kept squinting and bobbing around looking for a clean spot. “Is it on the inside?” I wiped the inside of the glass with a fast food napkin. It came away clean. I muttered, “It’s something on the outside…”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO DRIVE? IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?”

“NO, I WANT TO CLEAN THE WINDSHIELD SO I CAN SEE TO DRIVE.”

“THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE WINDSHIELD.”

“Maybe you can’t see it…” I started, but G cut me off with a scoff-snorted “…oh for godsake! REALLY?”

I turned on him. “I’m serious! You forget I’ve had Lasik surgery! I have better than 20/20 vision! IT IS POSSIBLE THAT I ACTUALLY CAN SEE SOMETHING THAT YOU PHYSICALLY CAN’T!”

The sweet teenager with a blonde pony tail leaned out of the drive thru window to pass me our drinks with a worried smile. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. and she’s got people hollering about ghosts in a silver minivan. I jammed the massive cup of Diet Coke in the console and passed food and drinks to the boys.

dirty windshield

That’s when I remembered my Pop’s trick from his truck driving days: if your windshield is foggy, pour a little Co-Cola on it. So I pulled up to that spot where they make you wait when the fries aren’t ready and hopped out of the car with my Diet Coke and a handful of napkins. I poured a line of Diet Coke across my side of the windshield and started rubbing in circles. GUNK sluffed off of that glass enough to turn the napkin black on both sides. Pure-T GUNK.

I tried not to gloat.

(I think it’s the citric acid in the Coke that works the magic, so Diet works just as well as raglar. And I guess you heathens who drink gagPepsigag could try that. I would ask our resident chemist but he still swears there is nothing wrong with that windshield. AHEM.)

((Oh, and of course after all that drive thru drama, the story took a stupid turn 20 minutes down the road when Carlos announced he had a tummy ache which precipitated us turning right around for home, them staying there all day while I drove across the state in my own dang car. And damn if the windshield was covered in bugs but I was low on Diet Coke at that point and had to prioritize.))

Anywho.

This incident got me to thinking. I honestly do think that maybe this windshield thing that G and I have argued about every time I have driven his car for the last five years might be grounded in a very real physical difference. He thinks I’m just making it up because he doesn’t see anything there. I think he’s being a stubborn ass because IT’S RIGHT THERE. But the crux of our disagreement is data-based: my eyes take in a different range of data. My experience of the world is different than his when it comes to looking at things. He looks at the glass and sees the same level of gray as he does elsewhere (honestly, there are 40-11 pairs of reading glasses laying around this house and none of them are mine). I look at the same glass and see a problem that needs fixing. Instead of assuming that the other person might see it differently, we start arguing with each other about who is RIGHT.

There are people who can’t see the difference between red and green. I’m not going to argue with them about that in the drive thru. There are synesthetes who can smell colors and see sounds–I hope they wouldn’t blame me for not knowing what blue smells like. People lose taste buds as they age, so maybe the dinner really is too spicy for the kids.

The longer I spent in the car by myself, the more I thought about how often we forget (or ignore) that other people might be experiencing the same world in a vastly different way. They’re really not doing it just to be stubborn asses or precious snowflakes or whatever word we use to mock those who react to the world in a different way.

If I, as a white person, have a hard time seeing racism, that doesn’t mean it’s not there–it means I don’t see it. It’s up to me to polish my lens so that I can see it. I sure can see misogyny that a person who hasn’t moved through the world as a woman might miss. No one can tell me that we live in a post-sexism world because I have a lifetime of experiences that are grounded in the inequal balance of power between the sexes.

We cannot argue people out of their lived experience. We shouldn’t even try.

Imagine how different our morning would have been if I hadn’t needed to make G admit that the windshield was dirty–that I was RIGHT. Imagine if he had helped me clean the windshield even though it didn’t interfere with his driving? What if we had met each other with grace and generosity?

Meeting people with grace and generosity, even when they are describing a world that is different from what you see. Helping fix a problem that doesn’t affect you. Asking questions to understand another’s experience–that’s like pouring some Coke on your windshield. Clears things so we can see each other better.

Women’s March on Washington: I’m Going To Do This All Wrong

I tried writing this essay for a couple of days before I left for the Women’s March on Washington. It never would come together. Now it has. I’ll write more over the coming days but I had to start from where I started.


I’m going to the Women’s March on Washington this weekend and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this all wrong.

For weeks, I’ve heard white friends grow more excited about the March as it coalesces. Lots of Wesleyannes are going–Pris is hosting Sherry and her daughter among others, Jan and Lindi are making it into a mini class reunion. Allison is on the way from Michigan, and Mandy from Baltimore. Courtney and her son are riding up on the bus, along with just about every midwife I know. Those who aren’t making the trip to DC are marching in their towns. Seth and his daughters in North Carolina. Lisa in the Great Plains. San Diego and New York and Florida. It’s exciting to literally STAND UP for what we believe in.

At the same time, I’ve heard friends who are women of color taking a pass on this march. Its birth was awfully centered on white feminism and they are not feeling the space as a safe one. Even choosing a name was problematic, with organizers who had too little knowledge of marches that had come before and spaces that have already been occupied by black women. Women who have been fighting this fight a lot longer than I have. What if I mess this up and the simple act of going makes my friends trust me less? What if I fail to listen? To learn? To follow?

I’m going to do it wrong.

But I’m going to do it. And I’m going to do it wrong.

Looking over the list of speakers, I recognize fewer names than I should. I have grown up knowing about Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem. I recognize Ilyasah Shabazz’ name from her mother, Betty Shabazz, but I just learned Janet Mock’s name a couple months ago and Zendaya a few before that (from Tom and Lorenzo’s fashion blog). I’ll probably miss the most rousing speech of the day because I didn’t know the person’s name and decided to stand in line at the portapotty.

I don't look like any of these faces on the posters.

I don’t look like any of these faces on the posters. And that’s OK. I joined the crowdfunding on this one and chose the poster of the woman with the flower in her hair, because she looks like my daughters. But not like me.

I’m learning to keep my feminism intersectional so that I work for women of all races, ages, sexualities, and economic groups, but there’s no way I won’t mess that up. I’m always going to start from being a white, middle class, cis-gendered, middle age, straight woman. My reflex when I think about pay disparity will be to think “77 cents to the dollar” because that’s what white women make. That’s my number. For Black women, it’s 63 cents and for Latinas, it’s 54. I should probably write Latinx. I messed that up.

I will cry when the Mothers of the Movement tell their stories, but I haven’t heard their stories enough to remember which mama lost which son in which city. It’s all so much to keep straight these days. I believe that Black Lives Matter, but I still feel like a poser when I say it because I don’t know how to do the work behind the slogan.

I know more lyrics from the Indigo Girls than Janelle Monae (did I spell that right?). I did start listening to her Pandora station and damn, that Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is sweet but I know it’s not for me. I mean, I’m not a full-on Becky but I got some Becky in my DNA. Somewhere.

 

hat

 

Should I wear the pink pussy hat? I love the insouciance of the idea, the reclaiming of a slur and turning it against the one who grabbed it. I love that Diane can’t go to the March but already had a hat waiting on her needles that she gave to me. But some feminists think the hat is too precious–it smacks of hashtag activism and Pinterest politics. We don’t have to sweeten or soften ourselves to make it OK to rally. Then again, one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington dismissed the question about the pussy hats by pointing out that women are always turned into caricatures, no matter what we do. We’re too loud, speak too softly, use vocal fry or up speak or we get shrill. We dress like we’re asking for it or we dress to negate our selves. If we say pussy it’s vulgar and crude and invalidates our point, but if he says it…it’s locker room talk and shouldn’t stop anyone from being elected President. Wear the hat or don’t wear the hat? I’ll probably fuck that up too. Oops. I’ll probably do that wrong too.

Are these new boots going to be warm enough? What if my hip starts to ache? I’m not in any shape for all this walking. I should have put more time into getting in shape. And more thought into what I was going wear. A shirt to represent my home state? Something clever written on it? Ugh. I am so going to dress wrong.

What about my sign? That’s a minefield of things to mess up. I want to put something Constitutional, like “EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER LAW” but that is awfully dry, even on pink poster paper. If I put something like “U.S. OUT OF MY UTERUS” does that turn me into a one-issue feminist? I think about a simple “BLACK LIVES MATTER” because I am convinced that I should use my white privilege to amplify the message that is being dismissed. Police are careful when white women are around. People listen when white women talk. Except politicians. And the church. And and and…damn. There’s no way I’m going to find the right words for any of this.

It’s all so confusing and I’m wondering if I should drop out, stay home, shut up. Let people who can do these things RIGHT do them. I’ll watch and learn. I’ll do it next time, once I’ve thought my way through all the snags.

Overthinking things is one thing I absolutely know how to do, a craft that I have refined over decades of consistent training and relentless dedication to chasing my own tail.

DAMMIT.

I looked at the stuff I had been throwing in a suitcase so I wouldn’t forget to take it and that’s when I made up my mind. I’m going. And I’m going to do this all wrong. I’m going, so that I can do this, even if I do it wrong. Because my mom left a laughing voicemail that said when she told my 98-year-old Grandmama Irene that I was going to the March, Grandmama replied, “GOOD. Somebody needs to do SOMETHING.”

 

My baggage.

My baggage.

I’m taking my “I am a woman” shirt from Wesleyan College, a place that taught me how important it is that I know myself and speak my truth. I’m taking a fanny pack from my son’s camp time at E.S.P., because he’s a specially educated person and Betsy Damn Devos has no business in the Department of Education, even if she can tame the grizzly bear threat. I’m taking my boots, which still have some mud on them from volunteering on MLK Day of Service. I’m new to putting my boots on the ground, but I’m not afraid of getting dirty. I’m taking a book about being a Bad Feminist because I am definitely doing that already. And my other book is about shepherding a daughter through adolescence and even though I haven’t read it yet, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t say, “Sit on the sidelines until you can do it perfectly.” I’m trying to show her how to live out President Obama’s advice: Show up. Dive In. Keep at It. And I’m taking not just one pink pussyhat, but three. Diane is a damn fast knitter. Jean, who isn’t exactly a fan of pink will wear one and Courtney has claimed the other. Shannah is sending a couple more from Queens and I hope they get here in time.

Because every adventure has to start somewhere. Every person who goes on a quest carries some baggage along.

I’m going, and I’m going to do this all wrong.

 

Saint Christopher Was Lost

If you follow me on Instagram (baddestmotherever), you already know that I’ve got a precious collection of Christmas ornaments and for the last few weeks, they’re the only thing I seem to be able to write about. This time, every year, when I unwrap and unbox them and hang each on the tree, every one whispers a memory about some other day, some other adventure, some memory sweet enough that I made the choice to commemorate it with a bauble. Decorating the tree is like reading myself a story that I’ve been writing one line at a time for the last 25 years.

This year, I lost a small part of that story and fear of losing it forever paralyzed me for days. Here’s what happened…

I bought this dark green glass St. Christopher medal on the island of Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades:

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

Richard and I had just survived a harrowing taxi cab ride along some 500-foot cliffs. The driver was a fisherman on his off days, and he was telling us about a giant fish he had speared recently. As he leaned across the passenger seat to retrieve a photo of the fish from the glove compartment, the taxi slewed hard to the right. Tires crunched onto the gravel shoulder, RIGHT ABOVE THE DROP of the cliff because there are no guard rails. The driver jerked the wheel back to the left just in time to save us all. And he went on talking about his fish.

The adrenaline hit my guts and limbs at the same moment and while I fought to keep from barfing, I nodded politely to admire the photo of the speared fish that was thrust into the back seat. That’s when I noticed a St. Christopher medal swaying drunkenly from the cab driver’s rear view mirror.

Cab drivers in Greece are a rare breed (maybe because they don’t always live long enough to breed?). They drive modern cars filled with modern tourists on roads that were carved out long before modern times. Most roads can accommodate 1.5 car widths, which makes passing on a cliff a lot like accidentally joining Cirque de Soleil. There is a superstition that if you have seen the image of St. Christopher, you cannot die on that day. While the Greek Orthodox church has not validated this idea, Greek cab drivers are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Every cab has a St. Christopher medal to honor the patron saint of travelers.

As soon as we were dropped off at the hotel in Oia, and as soon thereafter as my legs stopped shaking, I went into a gift shop and secured this St. Christopher medal because I never wanted to forget that I had survived that cab ride.

This medal is small, so I hang it near the top of the tree. And, because 2016 just can’t let us have anything nice, I dropped it. I dropped a 1-inch dark green ornament made of glass into a 9-foot dark green tree.

There was no THUNK to indicate that it had reached the floor. I climbed down from the ladder and started searching the branches below it–no medal. I couldn’t shake the tree to dislodge the ornament because I might break everything else in the quest for this one lost item. And it’s glass, so shaking didn’t seem like the best plan. I tried to focus on the red of the ribbon but saw nothing. I searched and searched. I looked on the other side of the tree, as if St. Christopher might have bounced off a limb and taken a detour. I turned the lights off for a different perspective. I turned on every light in the room in hopes of making a glint in all that dark green.

I gave up. I reassured myself that I would come back later with fresh eyes.

But what if I forgot to look for St. Christopher? What if I got used to it being lost and forgot to be sad and whatever snag had snagged him held him all the way to the chipper in the New Year? For two days, I kept returning to the tree in search of St. Christopher. I even set a reminder in my calendar to look for the lost green medal.

I was overtaken by a deep sadness. I had lost my patron saint of travelers at the same time I was losing my story-telling voice. Sick for three weeks straight, overwhelmed with holiday tasks, busy at work, aghast at every cabinet pick and tweet.

Christopher of Lycia was a giant who was known for carrying others safely across a raging river. He was a sure-footed and strong ferry. One day, he agreed to carry a small child across the river. Out in the depths, Christopher felt pulled down for the first time, crushed by a weight that didn’t seem to match the size of the child. He feared that they weren’t going to make it. Legend tells it that on the other bank, after Christopher had found a way across, the child revealed that he was the Christ and the weight Christopher felt was the weight of the world that the child carried.

After all the other ornaments had been placed on the tree, I gave it one more shot. Sometimes the best way to look for something is the opposite way. Read an essay backwards to find typos. Look in the freezer for your car keys. Do the opposite of what makes sense. So I lay down on the floor and I slid myself up under the lowest branches of the tree. Instead of looking down in the path that the ornament would have fallen, I looked up.

And that’s when I saw a little flash of red ribbon, tangled around a branch high above my head. I slid back out and with great joy, snaked my hand into the depths of the tree. There lay Saint Christopher, gold side down and ribbon tangled in the branch, utterly invisible from the outside. I hung him right up on a safe branch, on the other side of the river and out of trouble. I gave him a tap so that the medal swung like a pendulum, counting out the even arc of time.

In my own heart, I put down the burden and the weight of the world and I remembered that I can tell stories. I remembered that sometimes there are raging rivers and stories help us cross them. That’s what I can do.

And I will.

White Women, Take One Step Forward: Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote Part One about what got us here. Today, let’s think about action to take if you feel shitty about what is happening in our country.


Part Two: Take One Step Forward

My darling friend stood in my office today as we whispered about the violence and intimidation that’s already happening against gays, brown people, Jews, Muslims. All those people who aren’t now nor have ever been as safe as we are.  When she thought about what has been unleashed, this tender-hearted friend who didn’t vote to stop Trump covered her eyes in despair and said, “I can’t.”

But then she shook her head and stood up straighter. “No. I have to. I have to.”

Yes, we have to.

I reassured her: “You don’t have to turn into an activist overnight. Just take one step forward.”

Find one thing you can do and take one step deeper into that. One step forward.

This will require you to keep yourself uncomfortable.

Another friend, another conversation, same office (I have a sign in the window that says “Therapist’s Office” as a joke). My gentle friend is shell-shocked that her own family members voted for a man who has threatened to overturn equal rights for gay people. She has a gay child who has traveled a long road to find her place in the world. She said, “I’m furious. I’m heartbroken. I worked up the courage to ask my sister how she could do that and she answered, ‘I didn’t even think about (her child).'”

My friend’s face went flat at the idea of such a close betrayal. I promised her, “I have committed myself to staying uncomfortable. I am with you and I am with (your child).” She shook her head gently and said, “I’m so tired and sad. I don’t know if I can.”

I told her to rest for a bit then get back to it.

This is hard work, being uncomfortable.

It’s OK to take a break for an hour or two, but commit to keeping yourself uncomfortable. Here’s why I keep using that word–uncomfortable. As a white woman, I can slip into anonymity any time I choose not to bother with fighting the oppression of others. I could walk right past you in the grocery store and you would never know whose side I am on in this fight. But when I slip back into anonymity and put on the invisibility of white privilege, I am letting my comfort outweigh justice.

So yes–self-care and rest. Fill your tank then get back to it.

tattoo-476096_1920

Try some of this if you are ready to take one step forward:

Listen to the things that are hard to hear. If a person trusts you enough to tell their story about the grievances they live under, do not shift the conversation to your feelings about how hard it is to hear these things. Don’t shift the conversation to how bad you feel about the life they live. I cringe when Jasmine rages about the racism she faces in small-town Arkansas. I want to say, “Not me! I’m not bad!” to get rid of the bad feelings but I force myself to keep her words in the center of the conversation, to hear her truth without centering the conversation on myself. It’s the only way I can learn from experience that is not my own. Sometimes the only thing I can say in response is: “I hear you. I love you. I am listening.”

Call out racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism whenever you see it or hear it. People listen to white women, so use your voice, even if it shakes. If you struggle with confrontation, respond to an offensive comment with “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean?” This turns the mirror back on the person who has made the offensive statement. It asks them to explain themselves, just like my grandmother did when I was being foolish. If silence is mistaken for consent, refuse to be silent, even if all you can reply is “That’s not OK.” (This paragraph is advice straight from my therapist, so y’all chip in for a copay.)

Use your body. On the bus, Holly witnessed an angry white man screaming “GO HOME!” at a fellow citizen simply because she took a phone call in another language. Holly moved her white body in between the aggressor and his victim. Be a shield. When Andrew witnessed a police stop that escalated, he moved his white body closer as an observer. He didn’t intervene, he remained present. Say hello to the person who looks frightened. If you see bullying, move closer to the victim for support. If you see another woman being pestered, walk up to her and ask, “Are you OK? Can I stand with you?” Look into these safety pins that everyone is talking about.

Not just for Islamophobia, for all types of harrassment

Not just for Islamophobia, for all types of harrassment

Expand your circle. I think the thing that has changed me the most in the last three years is the blogging community. It’s a way to learn from smart, passionate women who are not like me. I have met white lesbian mamas with black sons, trans parents, African Americans and American Africans, urban homesteaders, and even a California hippie firebrand. It can be as simple as following families you want to understand better on Instagram. Take a look. In the digital age, there is no excuse for not knowing people outside your hometown. Get in touch with like-minded people in your town.

Find some dollars. Heather checked through her annual budget and found new money to put behind causes that are important to her. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I can’t figure out how to write a check TO SCIENCE.”

Use whatever platform you have. If you can show people the truth, use that influence. For example, I needed a Veterans Day banner for our intranet home page. Instead of using a stock photo of all white male soldiers, I created one that reflects the actual ratio of OUR employees: six women, two men, fifty percent people of color. That’s what our employee family looks like, so that’s what our graphics look like. Jaime is in charge of alumnae communications for Wesleyan. She’s reaching out to under-represented alumnae to make events more inclusive and publications more reflective of our actual alumnae group. In her job as social media manager, if Nicole spots hate speech on our digital spaces, she sends it straight to HR.

Use your vote. Yeah, still. Every time. Every election. Local, state, national. You got an opinion about who would make the best dogcatcher in your town? Express it!

Hit the streets. I’ve put the Million Women March on Washington on my calendar for January 21, 2017. I’ve never done anything like this–never even gone to a protest at the Arch in Athens. But I didn’t read Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes” for nothing! It’s time to start opening my life to doing things that scare me. Peaceful protest is the cornerstone of our Bill Rights–it’s our FIRST RIGHT. “To petition the government for the redress of grievances.” See you there?

What else can we do to make this country a less shitty place for those who aren’t as safe as we are? Come on, white women. Our world needs us.

This Space Is Yours: A Message For Our Daughters

nasa carlos

Four years ago, G and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch a real live rocket launch. Not just any rocket–we got to see the launch that carried the Curiosity rover away from Earth on its way to Mars. For a geek like G, this was a once in a lifetime deal. (I thought it was pretty cool, too.) The kids? Carlos was 11 months old, Vivi 4.5, Victoria 12. They were mostly thinking about getting back to Disney World.

From the closest observation area, we looked out across a mile-wide lagoon to where the giant white rocket waited on its scaffold. The red countdown clock ticked each second as it passed. An announcer explained the built-in holds as each came up. They are cushions of time that give the team a chance to calibrate the launch to hit a specific window. After each hold, the clock started down again.

Rocket Family

Rocket Family

When the countdown clock dropped below 10 minutes, things really got exciting. As I put headphones on the little ones, the launch director started the “go/no go” poll of all the teams who had played a part in coordinating the launch.

Excitement swelled as we listened to the launch director call each team and its leader responded “Go!” Talker? Go! Timer? Go! FSC? Go! ACC? Go!

Years of work, billions of dollars, so many mistakes and so many victories–we got to hear it all distilled into two joyful letters–GO.

And I started to cry. A suburban mom standing there in the Florida sun with her kids gathered round and looking across the water at something that would leave this world and go to Mars. To get to witness people as they revel in the successful completion of hard work–what a privilege.

But what really got me crying was the fact that my daughters were hearing female voices declaring “Go!”

Want to be an astronaut? Go! Want to be an engineer? Go! Want to write a program that steers a robot on the surface of another planet? Go!

Go!

Go!

Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in the summer of 1969, when I was about the same age as Carlos was that day we watched the Curiosity launch. My mom took me out into the yard to look up at the sky. “There are people up there!” She wanted me to participate in this historic event, even if I wasn’t old enough to comprehend.

I did something similar tonight. While Vivi used Scratch to code a game about cats, I switched the TV from Netflix cartoons to the roll call of delegations at the Democratic National Convention. We tuned in round about Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi. She poked her head up and said, “Is this for President?” I explained that this was how the Democratic party decided who they would back for president. “Sounds like Hillary Clinton is winning,” she said, her eyes already drifting back to the keyboard.

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

I walked into the kitchen to start dinner and found myself getting misty-eyed, just like that morning in Florida. The voices that stepped up to the microphone to declare for Sanders or Clinton–so many of them were female voices. One woman had been born before women won the right to vote. My daughter gets to hear people who sound like her cast their support in favor of electing a President that looks like her (albeit a little older and wiser).

We got to the moon before we got to here. But it’s progress.

I didn’t try to stop the tears. Rainbow leis in Nebraska. Puerto Rican accents. Black Lives Matter t-shirts from Wyoming. Native Americans recognized as sovereign groups by the delegates from New Mexico. Senator Sanders, a Jewish socialist, pulling us all together for the finale. All of those voices rising together to shout “Aye!” This is the country I want my daughter to see. This is the voice of America that I want her to hear.

Even if they seem busy with other things, our daughters are listening. I want mine to know that this is their space. Here. There. Everywhere. On the podium. In the laboratory. Pushing the stroller. Pushing the envelope.

Check out this photo of some of the women currently working on Mars (they tele-commute from Earth but they work on the Mars Science Laboratory):

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

One last thought from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space:

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

 

Keep the Change

Maybe I wasn’t the only woman buying a pregnancy test at Kroger at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning–this is a college town after all–but I’m pretty sure I was the only one with gray hair and an itemized tax return.

So…yeah. I had been feeling anxious and snappish for a few days but when I couldn’t sleep that night becasue the waves of anxiety were washing over me and my heart rate was in the triple digits while lying down–it hit me. My period was late. Several days late. And in 35 YEARS, that has only happened twice. I remember those two times clearly because their names are Vivi and Carlos.

Pregnancy tests are super accurate and fast these days. They’re digital too, so instead of that cryptic blue line that I had to search for with Vivi, this time the digital readout window said:

LOL SRSLY? UR OLD

I was so relieved that I woke G up to tell him the good news. He got things a little muddled what with being asleepish and it being 2 a.m. and me starting with, “I’m having an anxiety attack. Can you keep me company? My period is late and I just took a pregnancy test.” (This was the moment when he truly woke up and yelled “OH SHIT!”) It took him a few moments to hear the “IT WAS NEGATIVE!!!”

Finally got to sleep at 4 a.m., only to wake up a few hours later convinced that the test had to be wrong. Seriously–twice in 35 years. And those two times were already awake and getting jelly on the Roku remote. The anxiety rushed back over me in a flush.

I made an appointment with Dr. Web MD and started searching specific things like “am I old enough for menopause even if I have a child in preK?” I found the results somewhat unclear because there is NO WAY I AM OLD ENOUGH FOR THIS:

  • Average age of onset for perimenopause: 47. HA! I am 47 and a half, so that can’t be it.
  • Low sex drive. I wouldn’t call it “low.” More like “riddled with fatigue and resentment.”
  • Mood swings. Oh, fuck you, Web MD. I’m still in my prime. (sobbing)
  • Trouble sleeping. I can sleep FINE. In hotels. And during the day. As long as the ceiling fan is set to warp speed. And 50 mg of Benadryl doesn’t hurt.
  • Hot flashes. I don’t have “hot flashes.” I have anxiety that rushes over me in a flush. Totally different.

I called my sister, because she has both a medical degree and a uterus. Her diagnosis was, “Duh. At least you save money on tampons, right?”

I called my friend who’s a few years older and she said, “Yeah, you’re going to want to kill everyone but it gets better. Try yoga. And drinking.”

I called Big Gay and, after a lot of commiserating, she said, “Well, I will say that I feel more comfortable in my own skin at this point in my life.”

So there’s that, I guess. I’m going to be the sweatiest most self-actualized mom at kindergarten registration.

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I wrote this a week ago but I’ve been too afraid to publish it. We’re not supposed to talk about “lady parts” and what they do, right? I’m tired of the sense of shame I have about the way my body works. I have periods and I am grateful for them because they made it possible for me to create two people from scratch. (Well, it started out as more of a back rub than a scratch.)

Our girls deserve to know that the way our bodies work is miraculous and normal. When Vivi and I were in the Wesleyan bookstore last month, she hollered, “WHAT ARE TAMPONS?” across the store and I knew it was time to start The Talk. I didn’t get a talk–my education about what my body could and would and SHOULD do came from the teeny folded up square of paper with the diagrams and instructions inside the tampon box. Periods were something we whispered about and worried about, not something we straight up discussed.

When I googled menopause, I felt like I should erase my browser history, like it was something embarrassing or uncouth. Like I was failing in some way, admitting defeat. When I called my friends and family to ask questions, it made me nervous, like I was asking them how much they paid in taxes this year or whether they ever bit their own toenails.

Hell, I’m nervous about putting this out there but I thought it was funny and true. And I want other women to know that I’m in the same boat. My therapist assures me that there are a lot of positives about moving past periods and into the next phase. Let’s talk about those! How sex is more fun when you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant. How you can buy ALL the white pants and ride a white horse down the beach at daybreak.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

This is totally me at the beach next year.

It’s strange–knowing that I’m going to be different from what I have been for 35 years. The most of my life that I remember. What’s ahead?

I had all this on my mind when I went to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend. At the luncheon for the class celebrating its 50th reunion, I looked around at the other women at our table and realized that they are all about 20 years older than me. Every single one of them has gone through menopause and come out the other side. They’re lawyers and teachers and writers and designers and community activists. They are moms and grandmoms and dog moms and aunts and great aunts and daughters. They are smart and kind and funny and compassionate. They are beautiful and glamorous and genuine. They’re my sisters.

As in every other phase of my life, I can’t wait to grow up a little more and be just like them.

Then I went back to my hotel to take an afternoon nap with the fan on High. This video popped up in my Facebook feed and I HOWLED with laughter!

 

Today I Pledge

It was a rough weekend. Anxiety pinched at my every breath. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t finish any of the tasks I had set for myself. Just…couldn’t.

It’s been a rough month, what with the pneumonia and the plumbing crisis and taxes to do and summer camp registrations and bleeding cash and still missing my dad and the pollen and the and and ands.

It’s been a rough year, even the parts I haven’t talked about. I’ve been getting quieter and quieter because I started believing the lie that there were stories I’m not allowed to tell. I spent too much time listening to the vicious little voice that says, “No one gives a shit what you think anyway.” I started carrying the weight of “but what if I hurt someone’s feelings if I say that?” I put my own hand over my own mouth then wondered why I felt so stifled.

So with all that said, I found myself sitting inside my car at Carlos’ school this morning and I realized that I was pretty close to happy. Jayla and I had made a pattern of beads. She took my hair out of its ponytail and said, “Let’s be pretty!” Reniya sat in my lap while we counted pegs and stacked them up to make the tallest tower we could. Caleb counted all the way to 20. Rico snuck up behind me so I could play our game where I look over my shoulder and pretend I can’t see him back there. Malak showed me her new pink sneakers. Jaden showed me his dance moves.

When the Good Morning Song played over the intercomm, we cleaned up the toys and pushed the chairs under the table, then the kids went to their spots on the rug. I kissed Carlos on the top of his head and whispered, “Have a great day. I love you.” I gave a couple of hugs to the ones who wanted one. I slipped out the side door of the school and walked across the empty parking lot as the Star Spangled Banner played. The PA system reaches out to the playground, so I can still hear what’s going on inside the building.

I sat in the car with the keys dangling from the ignition and my phone in hand. On busy mornings, that moment in the car is usually my first chance to gather myself and see how I am that day. Today, after all those airless moments this weekend, I found myself with a glimmer of happy, like a candle flame trying to get started. I looked out into the sun rising over the playground and breathed in some of the pink sky.

The teacher in charge of announcements read the menu for breakfast and lunch. She reminded everyone that tomorrow is superhero dress up day. Then she welcomed three little preschool kids who would be leading the school in the pledge that day. Each one hollered their name into the mic–so loud and proud I couldn’t really understand them. But their joy came through loud and clear.

They launched into the Pledge of Allegiance with verve. One little girl was going double-time so it kind of fell apart in the middle section. The teacher chimed in to get them back on track, and in unison they all wrapped it up on, “with liberty and justice for all.”

My heart twisted. That’s the part of the pledge that’s hardest to hear right now. For the past couple of years, being woke has worn me out. Once you’ve become attuned to the unjust parts of our system, whether it be sexism, racism, or economic chokeholds–it’s hard to believe it when we say “liberty and justice for all.” I have to remind myself that it’s a goal, not a done deal. That liberty and justice for ALL is what we’re working towards.

The happy started to dissipate under the weight. I could feel all that joy that I had stored up with my preK friends begin to flicker and fade.

But those kids on the microphone weren’t finished. Right after the Pledge of Allegiance, all the students at the Early Learning Center recite their school pledge, which goes like this:

Today I pledge to do my best

By being READY to learn

RESPONSIBLE for myself and

RESPECTFUL towards others.

I am an ELC Lion…hear me ROAR!

The trio doing morning announcements really threw themselves into that pledge today and I thank them for it. As their roars raced across the parking lot to where I sat alone in my car, I realized that I can believe in their simple pledge. Right now, every day.

I am ready to learn, even when the knowledge hurts.

I am responsible for myself, honoring my mind, body, and spirit.

I am respectful towards others, even those who disagree with me.

I am a tired but hopeful middle-aged white woman whose heart sometimes breaks in the parking lot….hear me ROAR.

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