We passed the clipboard around the circle. Name, neighborhood, email, and a final, casual column: “What’s on your mind right now?”
I was late, but I didn’t even have the energy to look at answers above mine. I wrote, “exhaustion.”
Truly, the other women in our circle on Tuesday night had many more valid reasons to scribble in that column. My NICU PTSD is here but less so — my early baby is six years old and I no longer startle involuntarily at certain beeps in check-out lines. I’ve got coping strategies to avoid triggers – I Teledoc most of my own medical care to avoid hospitals, we enter on the far side of the pediatrician’s office, we rush for check-ins or head to urgent care at the first signs of illness so that we can avoid the ER at all costs (and though that’s also a sound financial approach, those aren’t the kind of costs I’m talking about).
Last weekend, my youngest son lost a battle with a paver. He fell in my parents’ yard and the jagged slate split a funny, Y-shaped hole in his lower lip. He was beside himself. Real kid pain almost inevitably places me back in the NICU, next to the plastic pod my oldest lived in for a month. I feel every bit as powerless as I was then, watching while someone pricked his heel or fed a tube down his nose for the fifth time in as many hours and he wailed — a sound that I now know was small, but at the time filled every part of me — the whistle of a freight train bearing down, down, down.
The blood was everywhere — so much blood it painted my forearm down to my elbow. I felt awful for holding him at arm’s length rushing up the deck steps to the kitchen sink, but when we made it and I placed him on the counter I was able to control myself enough to hold him. I shushed others out and calmed him. I wheedled and coaxed, the way mothers do, and eventually all three years of his gangly toddler body were sprawled in my lap with ice chips on his lip. His breath slowed. We had it. I thought, I can actually do this, I can make things better.
But I can’t avoid the news.
Every atrocity splayed out in front of us these past few weeks feels like an invitation to crumble, and the powerlessness is back in full force. Babies, children, alone without their mothers, ill, lonely, scared, in atrocious conditions, and no one is allowed to make it stop. Why aren’t we allowed to make it stop?
I have a book on the shelf in my office called “Speak Truth to Power.” It’s a coffee table thing a beloved friend gifted to me. I remember thumbing through it for the first time and feeling so incredibly inspired by the passion of those depicted in its pages. I imagined, for a long time, that my trajectory would magically shoot forward into a space where I would work actively to defend those who needed defending, that I would, as my friend believed, speak truth to power, on every exhale. Those days we stayed up late cleaning the bar, and I’d tell my friends, “forget writing. I can always write. I don’t want to write for money. I’m going to law school.” When people would ask me what type of law I wanted to study, I’d tell them, Immigration. In 2009, I had grand dreams. In 2019, I have kids.
My kids are their own grand dream, surely. I won’t say there’s nothing more magical than raising children, because it feels absurd to limit the universe in that way, but — Meyers-Briggs tells me I’m a feeler, and I’ll tell you — they are truly breathtaking. But they do make the idea of direct action and even sometimes demonstration feel decidedly more dangerous.
I donate what we can spare, which isn’t much. I make phone calls, although I’m not sure they’re doing much good. And I read, I read, I read. I read so many news reports and Op Eds and I keep reading, even though they scare me, even though they heighten that feeling of powerlessness, I keep reading because I can’t help feeling like someone owes these children that. We owe it to them to know about them. We owe it to them not to look away. When we are too afraid for our own tenuous health and safety, too fearful of losing our ability to mend our own children’s cuts or kiss their heads while they sleep, we can at least do them the service of hurting with their mothers. We can at least be here. Is it enough? It’s not enough.
Tonight I read a brilliant Op Ed in the New York Times, and here it is so that you can, too. It delves deep into both the racist rhetoric that is used to make this a thing that is actually happening in our country and the strange juxtaposition of knowing it, and having children. Ultimately, the author’s advice is this: stay enraged.
Once our circle disbanded, a good friend and I sat on the curb outside for hours, swatting moths from one another’s hair and talking about everything. Raising our children, non-profit strategy, writing, practicing advocacy in the space we know well — supporting mothers who are scared for their babies. We talked about never having enough time. We talked about exhaustion.
Staying enraged feels like a good way to stay exhausted, but it’s different, too. It also feels just a little bit powerful.
So here I am. I’m not looking away. I might not be brave enough to lock arms in front of a facility today, but I am brave enough to stay angry. You may not contend with much in the form of my body, and my voice is barely that small sound that came from my tiny premature baby — but I’ll speak.
What’s happening is wrong. And we need to say so as often as we possibly can.
– Find and call your representatives here.
– Freedom for Immigrants National Bond Fund
– The National Community Bail Fund Network has a directory that includes multiple bond funds.
– Find a list of shelters, defense representation and some organizations raising bond funds here.
– Together Rising is currently campaigning to support Holly Cooper, Co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis, in “emergency response to and long-term accountability for child imprisonment.”
– Working to alter legislation: The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
This morning I was watching AM Joy on MSNBC. One of her guests said they think this Brett Kavanaugh nonsense will help Republicans by energizing white, suburban women who have sons in college and are worried about false assault accusations against them. I turned to my husband and said, “If you’re a mother and worried about your son getting called out for assault, you’ve failed to do your goddamn job.” And since this is supposed to be a parenting blog, not just a screaming into the void about my depression blog, I thought I should do *my* goddamn job.
[First, white women, quit propping up the patriarchy. Learn something about history and feminism and race and class and intersectionality and quit being the goddamn worst. I can recommend some books! It’s gonna suck for a minute, realizing how terrible you’ve been, but then you get to be best!]
This is becoming a weird rallying cry, I saw something on Facebook about #HimToo – in which we should worry about our fathers/husbands/sons being accused. You know how you avoid getting accused of sexual impropriety? DON’T FUCKING TOUCH PEOPLE AGAINST THEIR WILL. DON’T BE A FUCKING CREEP. I dunno, seems pretty simple to me. I’m not worried about my husband/father/son getting accused of anything, because I surround myself with non-shitbags. (And, yeah, we can’t pick our fathers, and mine is far from perfect, but I’m lucky in this regard – he never made me feel shitty about my body or ogled ladies or was creepy. He told me I was smart and beautiful and wonderful just as I am. And while my stepdad could be a little on the inappropes side, I never got in trouble for telling him to not be a turd.)
But, seriously, let’s go to statistics. According to RAINN, a sexual assault happens every 98 seconds. So, less than the time it takes my microwave to make popcorn. And these statistics count men and women and children. Let that shit sink in for a second. Or for 98 seconds. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has this handy dandy fact sheet about false allegations. Educate yourself! I’m not even Nancy Googler and I came up with this shit in less than 98 seconds.
So, false accusations account for mmmmmmaybe 3% of reports, but 63% of assaults go unreported, and that means, if my math is right…false reporting is essentially bullshit. I’m not saying it has never happened, because women are just as capable of being trashbags as men, but let’s be really real for a minute and throw out false claims.
That leaves actual assaults. And if you’re a mom worried that your son or husband or father is going to be accused of something, what are you doing? Are you teaching consent? Are you sharing your stories? Are you listening to how they talk about women and making sure it’s with respect, even if the woman isn’t a relative??
I asked my girl gang about this, since most of them are raising boys. Because they’re a bunch of badass feminist babes, they’re doing the work. They’re teaching “no means no and stop means stop” and following up when their kids use those words. They’re setting boundaries and letting their sons know that everyone is in charge of their own body. They’re letting their sons be people, away from the harmful caricatures of toxic masculinity.
Because my boys have autism, things are a little different in our house. I’ve had the talk many, many times with Cal that we never touch people without asking them first. (We repeat this conversation every St. Patrick’s Day in regards to wearing green and pinching.) We’ve talked about bathing suit areas and how we’re allowed to touch ourselves as long as it’s in the bathroom or bedroom. We ask for hugs and kisses from the cousins. We stop when someone says stop, even if they’re laughing. If someone touches us without permission, we tell. Charlie is…well, he’s Charlie. (Although he does restrict privatetime to his bedroom, so that’s a fucking win.) I’m not worried about them being accused of assault, as statistically they’re more likely to be victims, especially non-verbal Charlie. So, yeah, my priorities are a little skewed.
And while we’re having this conversation, Lauren brings up an important point – fathers, what are you doing? Because putting this on mothers is just another burden. And, as we all know, fathers are role models too. If you’re a father, are you showing your son how to treat women? And not in a “be a man, be the breadwinner, don’t have feelings, say ‘yes, dear’ with a wink and a dismissive chuckle” way, but in a “your mom is an independent person with feelings and thoughts and I respect her and other women who are also independent people!” way. Do you truly co-parent, or do you sit passively while your wife/partner does all of the work? Are you the man you want your son to see every day?
Maybe we didn’t stop a likely assaulter and definite fratbrodingleberry from becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Maybe we have a human bag of vomit as President. Maybe we feel powerless when Mitch McConnell gets all het up on the floor of the Senate about GOOD WHITE MEN. But we have power over our children. And we need to wield that power responsibly. We have to teach them about consent and standing up for themselves and others. We have to teach them there is no “bro code”. That peer pressure sucks, but giving in is way worse. That only yes means yes and nothing beats a willing, enthusiastic partner. Teach your children well, and hopefully their parents’ hell will slowly go by.
As we (you) celebrate this stupid Hallmark holiday I’d like to take a moment and reflect on the wisest advice my mother ever gave me. (To be fair, it was about the only advice she ever gave me, aside from “just ignore them” which I have managed to apply to SO many different areas of my life, and not just when people are being shitty to me.) I was 5 or 6 years old, having a mental breakdown over something that would make sense to a 5 or 6 year old me – a toy she refused to buy? Picked me up from a friend’s house even though I’d clearly stated I wanted to stay longer? No ice cream even though we were eating in an hour? Whatever the grave injustice this woman was imparting to me, we were walking briskly (she was dragging me, whinging and whining) across the street in our small New Jersey town and I was screaming (I’m sure of it) every child’s refrain: IT’S! NOT! FAAAIIIR!
And while my mother marched ahead, ignoring my shrill cries and pleas for…whatever it was that I wanted, she said to me, without even casting so much as a glance at my freckled, red, tear-stained face, “Well, life’s a bitch and then you die.”
My mother, I must explain, is not a monster. She was no Joan Crawford, railing about wire hangers; she wasn’t even as brash as Sophia Petrillo telling Dorothy what a loser she was. She just doesn’t have time for your shit. If I came home crying because kids were mean to me in school, she’d roll her eyes and tell me to ignore it. At 11, I got my period at the most inopportune time, while we were on vacation in Mexico, and my mom didn’t make a DEAL out it, she just went to the store and got me some tampons and assumed (somewhat incorrectly) that I’d figure them out (that’s another story for another time and I did figure the tampons out but like a year later.) When I told her I was pregnant at the age of 24 by a…less than stellar man, she asked, several times, if I was sure I wanted to keep it and made no bones about her disappointment in me. Mom never made me feel unloved – I got hugs and kisses and “we’re so proud!” when I did something to make them proud (fewer and fewer things as I got older BUT I DIGRESS) (and she loves her grandson!! A lot!) But she’s pragmatic and you have to respect that about a person.
While I do think there’s something to be said about parenting with kindness, I think there’s a lot more to be said about teaching kids that shit’s not gonna go their way all the time. You can’t always have that toy, everyone isn’t always going to like you, 3 million more people voted for a viable candidate and we wind up with a bloated circus peanut as the leader of the free world instead, you can’t run around a restaurant because it’s dangerous AND rude…I could go on. We aren’t saints and we’re going to lose our tempers sometimes and when you’re up to your ass in unpaid bills with burnt dinner and on the verge of getting fired, maybe it’s now that your kid learns that he or she throwing a tantrum again because you refuse to buy them a new tablet is a BAD MOVE. Yes, your child matters, but SO DO YOU and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t or simply won’t provide for their WANTS.
Recently, my child (now 11 and how in the HELL has that happened) decided to try to pull a fast one on us. He failed, spectacularly and almost hilariously, but we found out and we doled out an nearly unthinkable punishment of one month sans screen time (which, he only gets to watch tv and play video games on weekends so…) in addition to your regular, run-of-the-mill grounding. He screamed, cried, slammed doors, the whole 9 yards. We explained it was his own fault, and we ALWAYS find out the truth in the end and while he stood there blubbering, trying to extract sympathy from this stone of a heart, I continued washing the dishes and said without glancing at his red, tear-stained face, “Well, life’s a bitch and then you die.”
One week ago, while many women across the country were preparing for the number of women’s marches happening all over, a 14 year old girl in Texas watched her father get shot to death right in front of her. Minutes before this brutal murder, the girl and her father had been at a convenience store and another man started making lewd comments towards the girl. There was a small confrontation, as you might imagine there would be when a father witnesses anyone being rude to his daughter, especially when “being rude” consists of making sexually suggestive comments to her.
The man followed the father and daughter past their home, as the father did not want the man to know where they lived. After awhile, the father pulled over and confronted the man, who, I cannot emphasize enough, felt entitled enough as a man to sexually harass a child. The man then pulled out a gun and shot the father to death, while his daughter watched it all happen.
The father was an old and dear friend of my boyfriend’s. While they were teenagers, the father spent much time at my boyfriend’s family’s home. Later, he joined the Army Reserves to try to provide a decent life for his then-infant daughter. He wound up injuring his back while serving and had to leave the military. He returned home on a fixed income, walking with a cane, to care for his ailing mother and his baby daughter. He later had a son with another woman, but had sole custody of his daughter.
Women everywhere have been where this girl was, with men older than our fathers leering at us and making comments about our breasts, our pussies, our bodies, our smiles or lack thereof. Some women become victims of stalking. Others die fighting or die trying to survive. This girl was fortunate enough to have someone willing to stick his neck out and call out another man for his disgusting misdeeds. He paid the ultimate price for doing the right thing.
I cannot begin to fathom what makes men feel entitled to women. We experience violence on every level nearly every day of our lives. Maybe it’s a comment, maybe it’s a stare that lasts too long, maybe a man follows us home, maybe it’s a head slam into a brick wall and a pillow over our faces when we are trying to leave a relationship. We are nothing but property to so many men; women and girls who are “unclaimed” by a man are subject to abuse by another. That this child is 14 matters not – she doesn’t “belong” to anyone so she’s “fair game.” The fact that she’s a human being and entitled to living a life free of abuse from ALL people, not just from a pedophile doesn’t factor in I suppose.
In my 36 years on this planet, I’ve been abused, catcalled, leered at, sexually harassed, assaulted, sexually assaulted, and talked down to. In my son’s 11 years on this planet, he’s been called a “faggot” by grown men who think that his hair color of choice defines him as a man, had his decision to avoid meat when he was 4 years old questioned by grown men who think that eating meat defines you as a man, called a “pussy” by grown men who think that 11 year old boys shouldn’t fear a 200 pound Great Dane that hasn’t been trained so well, as well as listened to countless numbers of grown men tell him how “men” are “supposed” to act and emphasize that he is worthless until he can prove himself “manly.”
Feminism wants to smash the patriarchy because the patriarchy hurts all of us. Men are not allowed to be vulnerable, feminine, caring, (or if you’re my parents’ friends, vegetarians.) Those men who dare to break the mold and step out are shit on constantly by other men whose insecurities eat them from the inside. I fear that cases like this make it even harder for men to speak out when they witness abuse, harassment, or assault. I know in my heart that there are many men like this father, who, without hesitation, would step into the line of fire to stop an attack on his daughter. The problem, though, at its core, is that there is a line of fire at all. If we don’t start changing soon, this insecure, toxic masculinity will kill us all.
**If anyone would like to donate to help out the victim’s family, please contact us and we will point you in the right direction. Thanks to all who have helped already.**
Charlie is my 13-year-old stepson. He’s autistic, which for him means he’s non-verbal and developmentally delayed (like he’s developmentally a toddler in many ways). He’s loves water, pepperoni, and his iPad and music. He’s a big kid, 5’5” and about 170lbs of solid energy. He’s got the prettiest curly blond hair. He can get violent, usually self-injuring, but I always have some scratch marks and bruises from some meltdown or another, nbd. He is the lovey-est kid I know, loves hugs and kisses and can be just the sweetest. He’s also really smell oriented and likes sniffing things. So, those are Charlie facts that are relevant to this story.
I do most of my family grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, because it is cheap and sells 1 ½ pound packs of pepperoni and giant jugs of bubble bath for $3. I usually go on the weekends and take the boys because they like going to the store and Charlie is usually well-behaved and it gives Scott a quiet hour (which I then trade in for glorious naps). So, this past Saturday, I pack up the boys, head to the store and have a not so great trip; Charlie was a little agitated and I was in no mood to deal.
We finish our shopping and are headed for the parking lot, me pushing our very full cart. Cal is telling me about videogames or Captain Underpants or Beauty and the Beast, something. Charlie’s walking next to the cart like he’s supposed to be. There’s an old couple in front of us, because it’s Wal-Mart.
Out of the blue, Charlie let’s go of the cart, gently places one hand on the waist of the man in front of us, goes up on his tiptoes and sniffs the man’s neck behind his ear before the man can turn around, then drops his hand back to the cart. This all happened in the space of 2 seconds, but it felt like a year. I speed us up and get the fuck outta there, before the man can figure out what just happened and laughed all the way to the car.
Things like this happen with Charlie. He sniffs randos and touches other people’s carts. He is also very popular at our Food Lion and collects high fives from the cashiers, who all know his name. He hoots loudly and jumps up and down and doesn’t always respect personal space. Sometimes he stops in the middle of an aisle to bite himself. I get looks and hear mutters, although most people can tell Charlie is different and I have perfected my “He’s autistic what’s your excuse for being an a-hole today?” stare.
Y’all, there’s no point to this story other than my life is really weird sometimes. I mean, that guy could have gotten mad, I saw it on his face as he was turning around and could have caused a whole scene. One day it’s not going to turn out so well and I’m going to have to actually yell at someone, or get yelled at, neither of which I particularly want to happen. But until that time comes, I’m just going to say sorry, beat feet, and laugh all the way home.
I’m sitting in a loose circle of chairs in a small classroom. This classroom is in one of the largest churches I’ve ever seen. It took me five minutes to find the front entrance and I had to ask someone for directions to the room. Around me sit a group of men and women, all of them older than me. They each take a turn introducing themselves and saying a little bit about why they are there. The circle gets to me and everyone turns. I take a deep breath.
“Hi. Um. My name is Erin, and my dad was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. We are placing him in a memory care facility next week and, well, I’m not doing well.” With this, my chin quivers and suddenly I am sobbing in this room of strangers, all of whom know exactly what I’m feeling. They’ve all been there in some form or another. I am not alone.
Alzheimer’s is one of those diseases that people primarily associate with the very old. It’s referred to as “Old-Timer’s” for a reason. Lately though, people are being diagnosed earlier and earlier. Most likely, it’s because science has come pretty far and the signs are clearer much earlier. It’s not dismissed as “Grandma’s just getting senile.” anymore. The problem (for me at least) is that with this earlier diagnoses, people (again, like me) are dealing with the fallout from the disease earlier in life than ever expected.
The disease is progressive and insidious. It steals away your past at the same time it’s stealing your future. It takes away your ability to walk, to talk, to chew. It takes your memories, your ability to remember to eat, your balance, and your ability to be rational. At the same time that I am losing my father in the present, I am losing any memories he has of my mother, of my childhood, of a large chunk of my life.
When I was in the group, one of the women said “I feel like I’m grieving for someone who’s still alive.” This shook me. I didn’t have words for how I felt until she described that. I’ve been going through the stages of grief, but continuously for six years. Each time the disease progresses, I start over again. I will grieve every time something changes until I grieve for the final time. I spend a lot of time in the denial stage. I’m excellent at denial. I’m working through anger right now. I won’t bother with bargaining.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I’m sitting in the memory care facility where we will be leaving my dad, shortly. His room is moved in, his recliner and his TV are set up. His walls are covered in family pictures, plaques from his time in the Navy and University of Georgia Bulldogs swag. His clothes are in the closet.
We’ve met the director, the staff and taken the tour. We’ve had lunch in the dining room and seen their grounds and the way their security works. Right now, the residents and my family are gathered in one of the sitting areas listening to one of the staff members give a presentation on Naval Submarines and bi-planes because a lot of the residents are retired military. Because this is a fairly new facility, there is only a small amount of residents currently. This makes me feel better somehow, like the less residents, the more the staff will be involved with them.
I’m terrified to leave. I don’t know if he will understand what’s happening or why we’re leaving. I keep having flashbacks to when my dad dropped me off at boarding school as a freshman. I was scared, angry and felt abandoned, even though, deep down I knew that boarding school was the best place for me to be. I hope he understands that we’re not abandoning him. I hope he’s not scared when he goes to sleep tonight. I hope he knows we still love him.
Over the summer, I caused a Facebook kerfluffle when I had the audacity to complain publicly about a man who sexually harassed me at a restaurant. Many people supported me, but the ones who thought I was being “unfair” were also vocal. What he said had to do with my boobs, and not even the worst thing that a near-stranger (or otherwise) has ever said to me. But I was at a place I’d previously felt safe because I knew the owner and pre-pregnancy, I’d been a regular. But now this asshole was the regular, and no one there claimed to have heard what he said to me, because he says shit like he said to me to women around the city all the time. Or maybe they did hear what he said to me, and chose to ignore it. Either way, he gleefully admitted, and expanded on, his comments to me via Facebook message, which I screenshot and posted in the then-growing comment thread for all to see (and some to blatantly ignore.) Continue reading
I think we’ve been pretty open about our feelings on this election. I spent Wednesday crying and eating my feelings. I wallowed for twenty-four hours and have been trying to process since. As a bisexual Hispanic woman and the mother of two autistic children who rely on social services – and as a person who decided in her mid-thirties to take on a bunch of debt to become a social worker – this result terrified me. I’ve never felt so uncertain about my future, and so frustrated by how to fix the world.
I’m well informed. I read widely and diversely. I am an armchair activist, flinging wokeness into the social media void! I have too much anxiety to deal with crowds and protests and lots of stranger interaction, so I do what I can from my home. I teach my children as much as I can, talk to my guy, my family, my coworkers, my friends. I pride myself on my progressivism. I voted for Hillary and encouraged everyone I know to do so as well.
None of that changes anything. We have a President-Elect who scares me. My privileged life, in the sense that I look white and straight and have been sheltered in a liberal echo chamber of awareness, has been shaken. My faith in humanity and the progress we’ve made as a country faltered on Tuesday, and that makes me so very sad.
As a cis/white straight-presenting hetero-partnered mother of two, it is a privilege for me to feel the outrage and horror I feel today.
As a rape and sexual assault survivor, well-meaning ally, and marginal member of the queer community (a bi girl who fell in love with and married a dude), and someone trying to work daily to check my own privilege, I am human, and I am just plain scared. As a mother trying my hardest to raise two intersectional feminist men conscious of their privilege (& appreciative of consent) so that they can actually impact the world for the better from day one and don’t have to massively fall apart reading “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” later in life to start making themselves useful – I am a messy heap of mess.
Yesterday my mother watched our toddler while we voted, and told him all about the great civic duty we were participating in. A few times last night he asked “did you have fun voting, Mom?” But this morning I pulled my three year old up on my lap and told him that Mommy and Daddy did not get the President that we voted for. That instead our country has elected a president who is a Bad Man. I told him that this means that we might start to hear people say more things that we know are wrong. His dad explained that this President only thinks that people like himself are important.
I reminded him that we know that everyone is important, no matter what they look like, or where they come from, or what they believe in, or who they love. He told me he thinks we should send the Bad President to jail. I told him he’s right.
And then I looked at my baby, who is too young to explain anything to at all, and I sobbed. Continue reading