Bullying Anti-Abortion Speech On The Playground

In my community, the Knights of Columbus operate a large pool that is popular for birthday parties. Behind the pool is a playground. And beside the playground, low enough to be visible for the children, is a monument to the ‘millions of babies murdered by abortion.’

When I saw this, at a party, I became so angry during the ride home that I started to shake.

Recently I was glad to have a conversation with a fellow politically engaged mother, who also expressed concern about sending her children to this pool.

As a professional feminist, I am well aware of how rude young men wearing Knights of Columbus regalia can be to women advocating for our own rights — it has happened to me outside of the Supreme Court more years than one. I, too, pause to give them my money or my presence, even for social situations.

But to think of my daughter and her friends at parties where this statue lies in wait for their burgeoning reading skills is another thing entirely. The line is tricky: My daughter is well aware that Mommy used to attend Catholic Church and doesn’t anymore, because the men in charge don’t treat women and girls fairly (also because of the priest celibacy requirement, which only breeds awful things, and rampant sexual abuse coverups, although neither are age-appropriate to discuss with her in detail now).

I have started to attend an Episcopal Church on a semi-regular basis. It is a good place.

At times, I have visceral reactions watching people who claim themselves pro-life applauding a president who conflates Nazis with good people and separates refugee children from their parents. The Catholic Church I grew up in is not what I thought it was then. Seeing it on a playground, I feel deep sorrow, anger, and resolve to keep at my work.

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An Obligatory, Trite, And Earnest Note About Marathon Training

I ran a 7:49 mile in the fourth grade. They thought I cheated and skipped a lap. I didn’t, but I too was surprised by my relative speed. I was one of those types who did the bent arm hang instead of pull ups. I thought I was not athletic and couldn’t achieve much physically, so generally, I didn’t. Until I did.

Our expectations for ourselves can be far more limiting than our bodies and I have had to learn this lesson throughout my life.

I am currently training for my first marathon. It is humbling, exciting, and occasionally painful. Mostly it is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. In this process I have learned a lot. I must prepare. I must be willing to challenge what I think my body cannot handle. I must confront fears and jettison habits that have carried me through decades of 5Ks and dedicated running that was good, but not marathon-level.

For example: Eating while I run will not make me throw up, nor does it obliterate the point of a workout — I have to do it to survive. Or, pushing through pain is not heroic or tough; if I don’t take breaks when my body tells me to, I won’t be able to run my race. I knew I had gone pro when my period started while I was on a busy street, and I just kept going.

More than anything, marathon training has taught me that I can mostly do what I say I’m going to do if I focus and commit. It is also training me to better recognize the boundaries of what focus and commitment can achieve. I can’t and won’t become everything I’ve dreamed of, including some things I had thought more achievable than running a marathon. And yet, remarkably, I’m still going.

On Running And Eating Disorder Recovery

Running has made me a better person. It wasn’t always this way.

Distance running was the beginning of my eating disorder. While it wasn’t the running that was at fault, I quickly cruised from clocking miles to restricting calories and punishing myself with exercise.

How times have changed. Blissfully, I’ve been recovered for some time. And today, running is something I do for me.

Running gives me a feeling of rootedness in my body and mind. It also helps me feel connected to the Earth. Aside from reading a local newspaper, there is nothing I love more when traveling than a run outdoors.

Judging by the regular queries I receive, my stomach sticks out as if I were pregnant. As a runner, I don’t give a shit. I’m strong — as fit as I’ve ever been. My head is clear. When it’s just me and the road ahead, my body is capable of astonishing things.

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Talking With My Child About Her First Active Shooter Drill

Last night, I set the clown traps on turbo. It helped my daughter go to sleep. Otherwise, she gets afraid. Then I researched what to say about her first active shooter drill, which they call a “lockdown drill.” It’s tomorrow. My daughter started kindergarten six days ago.

The more reliable articles I found online told me not to overreact when talking to my child about this event. There are fire drills, there are lockdown drills. It is important to stay calm and follow instructions. We do not need to give more context than “bad guys.” The word “gun” is unnecessary. Sharing our own fears is not helpful.

Tonight over dinner, my beautiful girl, who I first learned was a girl the morning of December 14, 2012, just after receiving the emerging news of a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, brought up tomorrow’s lockdown drill.

She told me where they will go. She told me what they will do to the room to secure it. She explained that they need to practice waiting for the police in case there is “a bad guy in the school.” They need to sit close together and be quiet, she said.

I had practiced for this. I stayed calm. I reminded her how this is similar to things we have talked about before; that when there is danger or we are afraid, the best thing we can do is stay calm, because then we have more power to focus on choices that keep us safe.

This rolled off like I was explaining the rules of Go Fish.

I sat, present and focused on this short conversation that seemed to be over, and a girl who seemed matter-of-fact about a variation on the fire drill. I congratulated myself on remaining calm through a conversation I’ve been dreading for five years.

“If it helps, you can take little breaths,” she said.

I felt the love and anguish of teachers around the country who put their lives on the line for their students, some of whom have been killed in the process. I loved them back, I held their pain. I kept a straight face.

In these words, I also heard my daughter coaching me, a card-carrying member of the Littleton generation that should have stopped this.

Instead, the shootings have become expected. Our babies are going to school. What I can do now, she says, is take little breaths.

Every Time You Ask If I’m Pregnant, I Post A Selfie On Instagram

I get asked if I’m pregnant on the regular. At first this shit made me cry. But it’s happened so much that I’ve had to get used to it.

Sometimes I still cry.

My stomach sticks out. It has stuck out for years. I am not pregnant. I gave birth to a creative, healthy, playful girl five years ago. Today I have a tight stitch where a C-section once happened, and there’s a pouf above it that reflects my love of wine, cheese, and life.

Your reassurances that I am not fat do not help.

I have noticed that friends feel compelled to insist I’m not fat. Just because you say that I don’t look pregnant does not mean I don’t get asked this question, on average, a few times a month. Just because you say I’m so skinny doesn’t mean I won’t get asked about the baby I’m not expecting sometime real soon.

I have created a new rule:

Every time I’m asked about my pregnancy, I post a selfie to Instagram.

I love it.

It puts me back in the driver’s seat of my life.

No matter what I’m wearing, how I’m made up, or what I’m doing, I take a picture of myself and share it with people who know me, mostly in real life. I admit forthrightly what just happened. And then I move on.

When I do this, I no longer remain the person whose body is being reviewed and assessed by others. I become the person who has this body right now, and is living her life anyway.

If you get asked if you’re pregnant a lot, my recommendation is to find something to do immediately that feels good to you. Then keep doing it. Having something to draw upon that does not require thought can be helpful when hurt slaps you in the face, as it did in the comfort of my own home (indeed, no place is sacred) twelve days ago.

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You See A Trump Administration Official In Public — Now What?

“Hi, I just want to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country,” Kristin Mink said to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt in a restaurant while hoisting her baby on her hip. “This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves water … We deserve to have someone at the EPA who actually does protect the environment. Someone who believes in climate change.”

Days later, Scott Pruitt resigned.

Taking direct action is effective. What makes this video so mesmerizing is how casually Kristin Mink strides up and speaks. Perhaps you think you can’t do this. But you can.

Here’s what to do if you see Trump administration officials in public:

1. To paraphrase my friend Susie, remember that they are YOUR government and accountable to YOU.

You have every right to speak to government officials — and expect a response — no matter what they are doing. In line at Target? Fair game. Eating at a restaurant? Go for it. Out at a swanky show on the town? You got it, friend.

2. Don’t worry about civility.

You can be firm and you can be polite, but if to be civil means to let an autocratic government attack a free press, rip families apart, decimate reproductive rights, destroy environmental protections, and embrace bald racism and nativism under our country’s flag — that kind of civility is actually just enabling, and nope, you don’t have to do that.

3. Assess where you are, who you have, and then start filming. 

Is a friend or family member with you? Decide who will record and who will speak. Are you by yourself? Grab your own phone and hold it up to record while you start talking. If you don’t record the interaction, it didn’t happen. You can put the video on Facebook Live if you are familiar with the tool, otherwise don’t worry about the program and record now to share later. Turn on the camera and keep it focused on them.

4. Walk up. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Your opportunity to speak truth to power may not last long. Do not let it slip you by. Your goal is not to be perfect. Your goal is to be a real human, which brings me to the next point:

5. Don’t worry about the finer points of policy or the right talking points or language. Speak from your heart.

Plain language is your friend. If I saw a Trump administration official right now, I’m not sure I’d have all the policy right, but I would feel confident speaking from my heart. “I have a little girl and I’m tired of having to turn down the radio because the president is using racial slurs.” “I’m scared about the direction the country is going in and I’m terrified about what is going to happen at the Supreme Court. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Speaking from your heart is perfect — you don’t need to be a commentator on TV. Be yourself, in the moment now. That is your moral authority.

6. Demand answers from them and go quiet strategically, keeping the camera on their face.

Keep asking your follow-up questions, but remember that the point of interacting is to make them answer TO YOU. If they start running away, move quickly after them, continuing to ask the question.

7. Once it’s over, post it online. 

Post the recording on social media, share it with people you know, and let people know how the interaction made you feel. By doing this work, you are making it more likely that others will feel comfortable confronting this corrupt, deathly administration.

Remember: You got this. Don’t let these opportunities fly by. You don’t need to be perfect. You have incredible power, just as you are, the moment you run into these folks.

 

An Open Letter In Advance Of My 20-Year High School Reunion

Hi, guys,

Erin here. I’m  self-conscious and nervous excited to see you in a few weeks for our high school reunion. During the past twenty years I have been a human diorama of someone who did not ‘peak too soon.’

Over the years I have grown wrinklier and larger. I take less shit. Given the choice of being tighter or taking less shit, I’d rather take less shit.

I’m grateful for each of us who are healthy and still here. Almost everything I cared about in high school didn’t really matter. It’s a privilege to age.

Cordially,
Erin

An Open Letter To Susan Collins And Lisa Murkowski About My Daughter

Dear Senators Collins and Murkowski,

I would like to tell you about my daughter, Winnie. She is five, and a mother’s dream come true. She is healthy, strong, compassionate. She loves to watch baseball and dress up like a princess. Frozen is her favorite movie. Against all odds, she thinks dentists are cool and wants to be one when she grows up. She has been active in politics her whole life — from getting out the vote as a baby in a carrier on my chest, to knocking doors in national and statewide elections, to attending inaugurations. I try to let her take this stuff at her own pace; she can’t get enough. She likes to ask questions about politics and I make a point to tell her the truth.

Tonight, I told her: Mommy is sad. Why, she asked. I explained to her that it hasn’t always been that girls were allowed to do all the things that boys do — and generally it’s gotten better and more fair for girls over the years. I explained that I’ve had more opportunities than grandma, and that grandma had more opportunities than her mom, but if some people have their way about who gets to say what the law is in this country, she might have fewer opportunities than me when she grows up. My daughter knows that I’m a feminist and that I’ve devoted my life to working for women and girls. I told her it makes me very sad to think that it could be worse for her than it was for me.

She wanted to know how, specifically, it could be worse, so I told her the truth. There are some people who think they can make girls have babies, instead of being fair and letting girls decide when they get to have babies. My daughter does pretend weddings like every other day, and says she would love to be a mommy. She also understands that pregnancy is hard and babies are a lot of work. She gets mad when she is not given a choice about what to eat for breakfast. I could see it sink in on her face — at five — how not right this is.

There is a chill in this country, and I just know that as women of conscience you feel it. What I feel is what I imagine it felt like in other repressive countries just before women lost considerable amounts of freedoms they had once enjoyed: a sense that it is coming, a sense that it is inevitable and there is nothing we can do, and some people who are concerned and others who are in denial that anything will change.

You are senators. It breaks my heart that, as a parent, writing an open letter about my daughter to the two of you seems so critical to her future. I wish it were not necessary. But I know, in my heart, that if in your capacity as senators you do not put your feet down and say you will not vote for a Supreme Court nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade — and President Trump has been very clear that he will only nominate justices who would — that terrible things will happen to at least some of the beautiful and innocent girls who today come to my daughter’s birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and someday will experience the complexity that comes with living in a woman’s body.

As a mother, I am horrified that our little girls could have demonstrably fewer freedoms than we do for generations to come. You have both indicated support for abortion rights and in this current political environment, much less the current Republican Party, I can try to appreciate the contorted, lonely spaces you must find yourselves in. I hope you will try to appreciate the spaces millions of us mothers find ourselves in: Looking at our daughters, trying not to cry, vowing to do our best to ensure they get the freedoms we have now, but knowing that ultimately the matter is not much in our hands. The matter is, practically speaking, very much in your hands.

More than any other senator, it is the two of you who will decide whether President Trump is able to convert the Supreme Court into one that will repeal the federal constitutional right to abortion for generations to come. I hope you will think about my little Winnie, and all the other little girls her age, and how much we as their mothers love them. You are our last resort. Please stand up for our girls.

Sincerely,
Erin Matson