I Wanted To Thank You For Going To The Pub

I wanted to thank you for going to the pub. I hope you had at least four Miller Lites, and traded numbers with someone cute (I’m sorry they haven’t called). I know you had been feeling lonely. My daughter just turned seven and she is an only child, so she can relate as camps have closed for the summer.

I wanted to thank you for going to the restaurant to have a bacon cheeseburger with your family, eating indoors while the waitstaff wear masks. I know you needed that. Meatpacking workers, many of them from immigrant communities, also need food on the table and have been continuing to go to work — sometimes under government command — until they die. Mmm, bacon!

I wanted to thank you for standing up for small businesses by seeing your manicurist, getting your roots touched up at the salon, and keeping up with your local gym membership. I appreciate that it all felt ‘super safe.’ Friends who contracted COVID-19 continue to struggle months later, seeking new referrals by the week for pulmonologists, cardiac specialists, and gastroenterologists. Many of these medical professionals, too, operate their own small businesses and I’m glad we’re working together to keep our economy safe.

I wanted to thank you for refusing to wear a mask. You have looked so manly. On occasion my husband has joined the throngs not sleeping well, and SARS-CoV-2 couldn’t push up anxiety and depression rates like this without your unrestrained virility.

I especially wanted to thank you for going ahead with your summer vacation (YASS! Cotton Candy on a Stick!), as this week my school district has announced that for the next year children have the option to attend school two days per week or all-virtual. In my daughter’s grade they are honing reading skills so the timing could not be more effective to cement and intensify the inequities experienced by children with disabilities, non-primary English speakers, and poor kids of color without broadband and devices. We can’t solve everything for the kids, am I right?

I do apologize for getting a little windy during your long flight home from paradise (hope that guy in the aisle with the face mask over his eyes doesn’t snore too loud!), but since you’re up anyway, let me tell you what’s happening to moms of young kids. Without childcare, the nurses and nursing home attendants on the frontlines have been SOL this whole time, and now a sizable segment of my generation of working moms with office jobs are on the brink of being permanently forced out of or downgraded from our careers. In this new normal of barefoot and managing Zoom calls and ever-shifting distance learning decrees for my daughter, I appreciate the ability to ponder the intensification of systemic white patriarchy through school closures against a newsfeed of busy boardwalks and you, looking so great in your swimsuit.

Now that you’re home, I wanted to thank you for refusing to take off your mask in Trader Joe’s and for connecting this issue to the Democrats (though, gently, I remind you that the need for chocolate-covered mango potato chips is non-partisan and for those on the team, our symbol is a donkey, not a pig). It may be that no one in America better understands the need for people to wear masks in public than hourly workers, many of them people of color who have no choice but to serve you, so it was helpful that you provided some an opportunity to do so on camera while wearing fabulous Hawaiian shirts (every moment deserves a little cha-cha, yes?). As with some of their colleagues who have died in packed ICUs after restocking shelves and ringing up your toilet paper, the rhinestoned Bebe brand you were wearing during your viral rant may never recover — and as a member of the Georgetown class of 2002, I too am ready to move on.

I wanted to thank you for insisting on holding the funeral in-person and indoors, and making sure everyone had a role to play so they just couldn’t let you down. My daughter has not seen her grandparents in five to seven months, and should the worst happen during these delicate times when traveling across state lines carries mandatory quarantine or even closed borders, it is helpful to know that many of the elderly people in attendance were able to have everyone together singing the appropriate funeral songs before some of them die alone on video cam.

I wanted to thank you for attending the Trump rally wearing red, white, and blue, for desecrating the American flag with a blue line, and for wrapping yourself in the flag carried by rebels who tried to defeat the people of the United States of America. Your visible patriotism of destruction is poignant as Black people are killed in the streets by law enforcement because this presents a second option in the event the virus that is disproportionately infecting and killing them ‘magically disappears’ as has been suggested by the authoritarian Nazi sympathizer too busy ordering the military to teargas peaceful protesters against racism to lead a national strategy to defeat the coronavirus, from which, after arguing for less testing (the numbers will make him look better) and reopening the economy (the numbers will make him look better), he has moved on.

I have been staying at home for 17 weeks and am grateful for this opportunity to reflect upon what happens when I play along with ‘we can do hard things’ and you do not. At various points in this sofa-bound adventure, I have played Italian music from my iPhone and fantasized about having that one pasta dish from my honeymoon in Florence, and you have carried more than your fair share in this group project to ensure that Italian borders are closed to us so that this fantasy can stop taunting me. Scientists warn there may soon be 50,000 daily new infections in the United States.

In our own special ways, I suspect, we have been concerned about recent declines in American standing, and now we can say objectively that as far as coronavirus goes, the world watches on as we take irrefutable first place.

So truly, thank you for going to the pub. I used to think it was sad to drink alone.

Erin reading a book in a vintage swimsuit

All These COVID-19 Economic Relief Packages Leave Out Childcare And Are Sexist As Hell

COVID-19 has destroyed the basic social compact working parents signed up for when we decided to have children. Now, we’re forced to do it all. At once. This is impossible. The other option is to lose our jobs like tens of millions of other Americans.

This is a childcare emergency.

There are no personal solutions to fix it.

Color-coded ‘schedule charts’ for the kids or sweet website recommendations for how to view the Louvre collection virtually, from a pogo stick, while the kids learn how to meditate following prompts in ancestral languages aren’t going to solve it.

Re-opening the tattoo parlors, barber shops, bowling alleys, and movie theaters? Also worthless.

We need to just say it out loud:

The federal government’s economic relief packages for COVID-19 are sexist as hell. In leaving the childcare crisis unaddressed, the whole response is sexist as hell.

Parenting and childcare are economic activities that are not being compensated. Guess why? This has always been considered women’s work, even when men and non-binary folks do it, and that’s why it’s been under-appreciated and underpaid.

I’m seeing lots of government aid packages and promises for businesses that promise not to lay off their workers. Where are the government aid packages and promises for businesses that:

  • Reduce hours for caregivers on staff without reducing their pay
  • Give caregivers on staff PAID LEAVES OF ABSENCE even if they theoretically can ‘work from home’ at 3 a.m. while the baby sleeps for 20 minutes
  • Provide incentives for social-service organizations that are currently closed to innovate on safe provision of childcare for essential workers and also workers, period

Why are our legislators not talking about the childcare crisis facing working families in communities around the country? 

Our schools, summer camps, and childcare providers are closed. It is critical that the *actual government* address this issue. Legislators, cabinet secretaries. All the schools have closed and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doing what, having a manicure in Georgia? Have you heard anything from her since the coronavirus crisis began? How about Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia? Has he opened his mouth once about the extreme challenges faced by working parents ever (duh, childcare affordability has always been a crisis), much less now when we’re all tearing our hair out and struggling to breathe?

Where are the think tanks with papers about ways to climb out of this childcare crisis in a way that also offers protections for public health during a global pandemic?

The time for innovation is now. If ‘relief’ and ‘reopening’ ideas don’t prominently feature the needs of working families, they are not worth printing on paper.

 

Parenting In A Pandemic

March 13, 2020. That is the day our family entered lockdown in support of public health due to the coronavirus pandemic. Frustrated with the inaction of our school district, I woke up that morning and sent an email to my daughter’s teacher explaining that I was pulling her out of school. Later that day the district agreed, ending classes the following Monday.

Homeschooling and working full-time is not a joke. I have been known to work hard my whole life, and I have never been so exhausted. This is a beautiful, impossible situation.

The beauty is that love for each other, our neighbors, our community, our country, and our world is what keeps us home, doing these hard things. My daughter, who is six, and I have never been so close. In this room where I try to work and she works through tears and disappointments and joys and boredom we are seeing sides of one another that had been muted for the other by the school day or the workday, unseen and unknown.

What we are doing is much less hard than others: Neither her father nor I have lost our jobs. No one in our family has been sick with COVID-19. We do not work in medicine, we do not have to face the terrifying situations of first responders — and let’s be clear, that includes not just medical professionals but also people working in grocery stores, funeral parlors, and other essential services — who are exposed to large groups of people, many of them infected, and seeing the hardest times of people’s lives. We are not part of the Black community that is dying at alarming, disproportionate rates, a reflection of the racism that is always there and always making the worst things worse.

For us it is less dramatic but also hard, just as it’s hard for everyone else. Social distancing is exaggerating the pain points of our idiosyncrasies, creating deeply personal and widely divergent horrors. While I get up at 4 a.m. trying to make it all happen and end many days feeling exhausted, defeated, and depressed by the impossible expectations to work and homeschool a delightful and small only child of many urgent needs and feelings (it is cyclical, and I’ve learned to plan for it, accept and honor the feelings, and rise to try again), I recognize that what I am locked in is the exact opposite of others locked in by themselves, haunting to pass the time.

Of course we are inexorably changed, but no, perhaps this is who we are and always were. A mother and a daughter throwing socks at each other for an indoor snowball fight on Spring Break rather than going to Disneyland, frozen in the moment created by leaders who failed us and a horrible disease continuing to rob people of their ability to breathe and stealing jobs people depend on to put food on table. Parenting my daughter is the hardest and most unrealistic and absolutely best part of this pandemic. Because of her, there is no time for fear. Because of her, time that might be spent in sorrow is instead consumed with going off the never-attainable script provided by the school district and teaching her lessons about Chernobyl, because why not. I love her and now we, too, are living through the aftermath of self-absorbed, autocratic leaders who attempted to dismiss an invisible enemy as no big deal until insufficiently impeded scientific inevitabilities took over and showed everyone.

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.

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.

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

 

 

Vote In Your Primary Election

I want YOU to vote in every election you are eligible to vote. That includes your primary election.

If you care about winning, primary elections are where the magic starts. Where we decide if more women are going to advance. Whether candidates who support our issues will advance. And who is best poised to beat the opponent in the general election.

No election is too small for your vote. This morning we took our daughter along to vote in a primary election for a county board race. We discussed with her, who we were voting for and why. We can not take our right to vote for granted, even when primary candidates seem more or less equal or there is no one who seems “just perfect.”

When our president flirts openly with anti-democratic moves, to vote in 2018 is an act of resistance.

People went to jail so you could vote. In a primary, you often don’t need to even stand in line. Just. Go. Vote.

Raising A Daughter While Feminist

She is starting to catch on. Her mom is a feminist. I work so girls and boys can be equal. And, she is serving it back in my face.

Eyes flashing, indignant. “Why do we only go to sports with boys?”

Well played, kid. We start to go to the neighbor girl’s basketball games.

Parenting while feminist is a thinker. It starts with an awareness of gender roles and how they are modeled by the parents, including resignation that some things in life are separated traditionally along gender lines, others are shared equally, and other points of pride that some gender norms are turned on their head in the way we divide up the labor within the household.

It is, on some level, letting go:

My daughter loves to dress up like a princess. More. Than. Anything. If I fight it, it’s going to turn into a bigger thing. If I teach her that traditional femininity is wrong, I’m giving her another narrow set of roles. She doesn’t need that.

It is, on another level, planting seeds:

If she says no, she doesn’t want to be tickled, it’s stopped right away. How many times has she heard, “It’s your body, and you are in charge”? Never enough. This is a child who gets several choices every day. She thrives on choices. She deserves choices. She does not get a sugar-coated version of reality. We talk about people in political life who make decisions that hurt people. We don’t pretend like there are two sides to hurting people with less power. The word for that is not conservative, because it is not a worldview. The focus is on the impact, and the word for discriminatory or harmful impact is wrong.

To be clear, feminism is not just about how we raise our daughters. It is not all girl power and self-esteem, though it’s great to give our girls that backing. Feminism at its best is at least as much about how we raise our sons. Parenting is political — very political. Our work as parents is part of our activism.

My girl is coming into her own. She starts kindergarten in the fall. To have been a feminist my entire adult life, and now to have this — it is mind-blowing. Someday she will realize at a deeper level what her mom and her mom’s friends are doing all the time. Someday she will remember going to marches and realize that a lot of kids didn’t do that growing up.

I am looking at the guilt I sometimes feel for working my ass off, for being wrapped up in the movement, my work, for not always being there for her. She may or may not be proud of my work someday. But either way, what she will have seen is strong modeling that if she has kids someday, it’s natural to have her own interests and priorities as well. Not even though she is a girl — because she is a girl.

 

Parenting Is Political

Having a baby changes your life, and that’s true for activists, too. In my microsphere of feminist and progressive activism, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way children and specifically having children is viewed.

Having kids can be seen as a burden, an impediment to career advancement, a selfish move that hurts the environment, or a means by which women without children are forced to do more work for the people who get to go home early. I’ve heard feminists who don’t have children say all of these things, and I died a little each time. (To be clear, I’ve also encountered feminists who accommodate caregiving and inspire the best of me as a mom and an activist.)

A feminism that directs women to outsmart the reality of caregiving is probably superficial, market-oriented feminism at its worst. By all means, women and all people should be free to live their lives without being accused of having a maternal instinct to tend. Women who don’t have kids are doing right by themselves and don’t need scrutiny or second-guessing or third-party guilt trips. But to conflate the choice of some women not to have kids as an imperative for all women not to have kids or dependents of any kind, if they want to get ahead in the adult world — why, that’s crap.

Children are part of the universe. They are people with needs. Until we accept the presence of people with needs as part of the public and not just private sphere — be they children, adults with disabilities, or seniors in need of help — equality for women is going nowhere. Whether a woman will have children or not, others will use her presumed reproductive capacity and their opinion of her fitness for it to make decisions on her behalf.

It was tough for me to have a baby, and to adjust. I have always been what my husband calls a “gunner.” Prior to having a child I have, at times, run myself ragged chasing my dream of equality. Once I hit a limit to the point that a friend allowed me to sit on the phone stupefied, unable to speak, only able to cry, because I was working so hard (and without pay), completely disconnected from “life.”

More often it was healthy and fun, where instead of watching TV I liked to go to activist meetings and throw protests (I mean, it is more interesting)! In my last incarnation before getting married and having a baby all domestic-like, I was doing work-related things most weeknights and weekends. It was my community and my passion, and mostly, I was having a good time.

Once I had a baby, the activist labor of planning actions/meeting with activists, going to panel discussions and meet ups, and the endless cycle of board and committee meetings most every evening screeched to a halt. And, in the quiet of a burbling baby who needed to be rocked to sleep and would wake up again 10 minutes later, I began to internalize how removed some feminist quarters I occupied were from the reality of so many women’s lives.

It took more time still for me to realize that some of the most profound activist work I can do is not “activism.” It is not shouting the right thing into the bullhorn, or rounding up the permit and building the engagement ladder, or deepening my understanding of privilege and pushing my own boundaries of what it means to accept and love your neighbor. I do not denigrate these things — I do them.

The most profound activist legacy I leave behind may well be my parenting, and if that winds up being true, I see it as no lesser than the accomplishments of starting an organization, speaking truth to power, and forcing change in the public sphere. Giving my daughter a sense of love and justice, and encouraging her questioning and willingness to participate in collective activism, matters.

Parenting can be activism. Parenting can be a more profound contribution of activism than the things people associate with activism. It’s not anti-feminist to believe that. Frankly, the anti-feminist problem may sit in the slice of feminist spaces that don’t explicitly accommodate people with children, that don’t encourage their participation by explicitly welcoming families in actions and meeting spaces, and that don’t explicitly lift up the importance of the caregiving work that so many women do as a site for collective liberation in the the struggle toward equality.

Surrendering To Solitude

Parenthood broke me. Not parenthood itself — I think I adjusted pretty well. During the course of pregnancy I felt mainly radiant, with the exception of the last week before birth, which was hell. Mercifully I dodged the postpartum depression thing. With the exception of one hard cry the day my husband went back to work, I was A-OK. I rocked and lightly bounced the baby to sleep. I shushed. I sang. I got up in the middle of the night and took care. Now I mimic too many of these behaviors for my naughty pug mix, but that’s another story. What parenthood broke for me was a need to get out of the house or to see other people.

Parenthood has turned me into a homebody. After a few months of craving getting out of the house at the beginning of my daughter’s life, I have fully surrendered to the solitude of responsibility. It is no Walden out here. There are endless loads of dishes to put away, and laundry to wash and fold. My daughter could yell for me at any moment to come fix her sock or help her clean up after a trip to the bathroom. But I no longer try to be alone as a performance or production, as when I used to take myself out to Sunday brunch solo in my early twenties — a bad-ass and satisfying routine, to be sure. These days I don’t know if it’s that I have too many responsibilities on my plate or am just plain lazy, but in either case, when I find myself with a rare spot of free time I do not leave the house. I stay home and do more chores. Or I sit.

It is amazing to sit.