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.

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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.

 

On Parenting And Being Wrong

My three-year-old daughter made her first gingerbread house, and I thought I caught her breaking candy off and eating it. “Stop it,” I said from the top of the stairs.

Her face crumpled in transparent hurt and indignation. But Mommy, I didn’t do it. She sobbed.

She didn’t. I was wrong. She has been sneaking candy recently. I was convinced she was doing it again.

I’m sorry, I said. I was wrong. Sometimes Mommy is wrong.

But my feelings are hurting, she cried.

I know, I said. I hugged her. The next time I’m wrong, tell me and I’ll believe you.

She nodded.

At the grocery store a few hours later, it appeared she was pulling open a small carton of Goldfish crackers we hadn’t bought yet. I said her name in a warning tone.

“Mommy, you’re wrong.” She said it without getting upset, and I believed her right away.

So many important lessons tucked in at once. I hope she’ll always retain a sense of fairness and a willingness to tell authority when it is wrong. I’m glad she is grappling with the fallibility of the people she loves most. Perhaps when she is older she’ll have the courage to wear her weaknesses openly when she’s in the company of people she can trust — an essential trait of leadership.

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I should take the gingerbread house off that table, however. The yellow lab is eyeing it.

 

 

Body Hatred, Raising A Daughter, And Real Recovery From An Eating Disorder

Each Wednesday, my daughter and I put on our swimsuits and walk into the community pool until the water gets so deep I bend down and carry her. It is a long ramp into the deep end. Packed benches and risers span the perimeter and they are crowded with parents and siblings. It is quite a catwalk for those initiated into the lethal art of body comparison and body hatred.

My history with an eating disorder is one of the coolest and shittiest things about me. Cool because you recover from anorexia like I did, and no one can fuck with you. Overcoming my demons has given me a fearlessness and strength that stuns even me. Shitty because there is no intrinsic value in a bullying voice that tells you to stop eating and lose all the weight.

As it pertains to parenting a girl, it’s terrifying to know personally the reality of eating disorder culture taken to its logical extent — the acts of fainting, obsessing, and starving turning into a body that elicits jealousy, praise, and near-death experiences that blur into a loop of hospitals, treatment, and crying your damn eyes out because it hurts so much. It starts with pink onesies that ask if this diaper makes you look fat, and turns into magazine covers asking for twenty fucking years if Jennifer Aniston is pregnant because she is a woman and has a stomach. It is friends and family saying they are good or bad depending on what they ate or how they exercised. Eating disorder culture is everywhere, and it is unavoidable.

So as this swim class taught my daughter to swim, it taught me to wear a swimsuit in public without holding in my gut. It taught me to throw my towel over my shoulders instead of wrapping it cautiously around my waist or under my arms. It taught me to sit on the floor because the benches are too packed and let the rolls bunch over my bikini bottom. I want her to breathe, and walk, and sit like this. Being her role model helps keep me clean. The best way to teach her to love herself is to show her that I love her, and myself.

I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder. But the reality is, my actions don’t always match my thoughts. I eat regular meals, don’t restrict my food, and exercise only when I have time, which for someone who fits my work/life profile means not so much. I have a gut, two thighs, and a body that reflects this. My actions are good. My thoughts can be brutal.

Recently I have had a series of conversations with someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. She will often ask me how I moved past nasty eating disorder thoughts. This would be a different answer for anyone, since everyone’s thoughts and motivations are different, but I do think the one commonality is that we all need professional treatment to break free (this is my regularly scheduled reminder that I do not believe it’s possible to self-help your way out of an eating disorder, and if you are struggling I urge you to seek professional treatment).

But more important, it has helped me to realize that these thoughts may diminish in frequency and severity, but they actually do not go away. I’m not going to tell you what I think because I am not here to provide instructions for how to be an anorexic (you should live because it’s cool!), but let me tell you that I’ve been recovered like solid for close to 15 years and still have ridiculous thoughts every day about a new diet plan I should follow. What has changed is that they float in and out in seconds. I don’t listen to them. I don’t follow their instructions. Most of the time, I don’t even register what’s happening.

Until I did a few weeks ago. There I was in Pilates class, being physically strong when I started beating up on myself for the bulge above my elastic waist. It was in this moment of strength and sweat when it all registered. “Oh my gosh,” I thought in a high, indignant voice rising to my own defense. “That’s so meanWhy would you say that to yourself?” I did this the way a friend would chase away the worst bully. The release nearly made me cry, realizing that I had been holding this self-hatred in my muscles and I could be a good steward to myself and sweep the toxicity out with a non-self-blaming admonishment and a huge exhale.

Having been to hell and back, I can verify the basic building blocks of self-hatred have never gone away. The best I can do is acknowledge them, ignore them, and rise above them. It feels good when I demonstrate loving my body for my daughter, and it feels good when I insist upon it for myself. I’ll see you at the pool and I’ll be walking in real slow.

Donald Trump Voters And My Daughter

Tonight, as I pushed a jogging stroller and my daughter held her butterfly wings and stuffed giraffe with the bell, we came across the neighborhood nightmare I hadn’t known existed:

Five Donald Trump signs on one lawn.

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” they screamed.

I can hold her and rock her and sing to her, but I can’t shield my daughter from Donald Trump supporters.

They exist. They’re everywhere. The polls and votes are not an aberration, and getting snooty about it or exercising our right to denial won’t do anything: Bald hatred is apparently sort-of in.

More distressing was the house itself. This was the house with the woman who had caught me pushing this stroller a year ago. She wanted to chat. She clearly wanted a friend. She has two twin sons about the same age as my daughter.

And now her house is supporting a man who has called for building a national registry of Muslims, posing religious tests for who can enter the country, and building a wall along our southern border at Mexico’s expense. He profoundly disrespects women. He encourages violence.

So what am I supposed to do if we see each other at the playground? Should my daughter be allowed to play with her sons? How do I talk to my child about racism and sexism and violence, and the awful views that express themselves in society all the time?

I will admit to feeling a level of discomfort with a trend among some in the left of shutting down all opposing speech. While I’m all about taking care of oneself and what one needs to feel safe, it seems like there’s a qualitative difference between a justified non-tolerance for racism, sexism, and calls to violence, and creating bubbles where the only people we speak to are people who love everyone perfectly. That world is very small, and as an activist my goal has always been to create a bigger world.

I think about that tension as I consider what to do with my daughter and this family. There is a good chance the issue will never come up — after all, it’s probably been a year since we last bumped into each other. But these are real questions. There are, no question, other Trump supporters in our midst.

My non-negotiable is definitely labeling the problem. If someone says something racist in front of my daughter, I have already pledged to my husband, no matter how socially awkward it is, to say loudly, immediately: “That’s wrong, [he or she] is wrong, and what they’re saying hurts people.” It may lose us friends, but it’s important to me that we confront it in the moment, and that we do not allow anyone who wants to diffuse the tension to redefine that moment as different people seeing things different ways. Some things are just wrong and they hurt people.

But beyond a direct explication of views I just don’t know. More than anything, I want to help and support people — including my daughter, if this is the life she chooses — to change minds and demand accountability so that we treat our fellow humans and ourselves better, with dignity, equality, and justice. Will closing off the neighbor who now gives me the shivers do that? And what would it mean to label some people off limits — does Trump win if his way of thinking (even for different outcomes) wins? Maybe the best thing we can do to defeat bigotry is to invest in our kids openly, in ways that make us feel uncomfortable.

 

Are You Going To Have Another Kid?

So you found a girl with really deep thoughts

What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts

Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon

How’s that thought for you

– Tori Amos

My period began as annoyance, embarrassment, and pain. I was a late bloomer. After years of wondering what the hell was wrong with me, my period finally came at age 15, shortly after the last bell rang on the last day of middle school. Of course I was wearing white shorts. Of course there was a pool party the next day.

Over the years, my period has represented many things to me. Growing up. That thing I don’t want on Spring Break. Black underpants. A signal that I won and anorexia lost. A wedding day menace. Crying, ecstatic relief that I’m not pregnant. A discreet circle in a paper calendar.

A way out of the broken condom and the morning after pill I picked up from Planned Parenthood (forever devotion and thank you). An app on my phone. Erin, Unplugged: No birth control! Now with more cramps!

A week without it, a near-barf in bed, and a plus sign on a white stick. One daughter and several months of blood in maxi pads. 17 months of nursing and one delicious break.

People ask me if I’m going to have another kid.

This is the weirdest question. In my experience, people feel much more comfortable asking if you want to have a second kid versus asking if you want kids when you have none. Apparently we are open books once we have given birth (and remembering the undignified way I was splayed out in mortal pain, there’s something to that).

But the question is harder to answer now. I have seen the awe-inspiring, knock-you-on-your-knees love that comes with parenting. I am frankly addicted to babies. But I’ve also lived the endless exhaustion, the sleepless nights, the high-octane screams, and the daily responsibilities that fall on me with greater heft, even with an egalitarian husband who kicks ass.

I have a career I love, I have a daughter I love, and I have a husband I love. Our life is ridiculously fortunate. There are two dogs that can be more work than the kid, and a cat who has stuck with me through every phase of my adult life.

I love babies. I want more babies.

I love my life. I don’t want more babies.

I love my work. I don’t want anyone to know I have a conflict about babies and discriminate against me.

It is love that drives my conflict about my fertility, but more practically it is time. I am 35.

Every 28 days my period comes and I don’t know whether to be sad or throw a celebration. I go to the OB-GYN and ask her if her practice is willing to accommodate vaginal birth after caesarean and also how I can get an IUD inserted next week. I find myself angry that there is no forum to talk about these feelings, that there is so much silence about the ambivalence a woman can feel about her fertility.

Perhaps what I find most unsettling during the autumn of my childbearing years is the near-intolerance our culture exhibits toward a woman who isn’t 100 percent sure what she wants. After all, telling women what to do is practically the great American pastime, and watching our bodies and judging our sexuality is a sport with millions of male and female referees. If we’re not trying to tell women what to do, we hate-pity them instead. Oh it’s so sad she can’t figure it outHope she finds a way to deal with it.

It’s not just social bullshit; vocal ambivalence about fertility has economic consequences. It’s no accident that many driven young women (including me once) loudly declare that we are not going to have any children. No matter how earnestly this may be felt, and I do not discount someone who says it for a second, saying you don’t want kids comes with a significant professional bonus. Women who say they aren’t having any kids or any more kids are more attractive colleagues and potential hires no matter what those pesky laws on the books say.

Honesty about ambivalence is fraught with risk.

What if I were to start trying for more children, and tell people? Would others participate, and gossip, and evaluate my body and my sex life in telephone conversations with others? Would professional contacts write me off?

What if I were to close that door, or my body were to make that decision for me? Would you tell me I should have another, for the sake of my daughter? Would you celebrate my devotion to my work and my family, and those few shreds of time I have for myself?

Would you cry with me anyway when my period stops?

I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want advice, either. I will figure this out and continue living my best life, even in a world that can be hostile to women, hostile to mothers, and perhaps inclined to shit on me for being honest. I have a great family and a great life. I am trying to break stigma.

It is astonishing how much we talk to women about fertility, without giving us space to talk, and be messy and contradictory, just the way humans are.