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.

Let Snow Days Be Snow Days

Expecting workers to telecommute on snow days is discrimination against caregivers, pure and simple.

It’s not just offices that are closed on snow days. Schools are closed. Daycares are closed. Caregivers who come to the home either stay home themselves, or put themselves in danger. Parents and caregivers aren’t capable of pretending like it’s just another workday, but in our pajamas and from our kitchen tables. We have people depending on us.

From a sentimental/artistic/being a human standpoint, I believe everyone should get a snow day — caregiver or no. When nature dumps white to the point of municipal breakdown, we may as well look out the window and wonder, catch up on our reading or binge-watching, or have sex (just saying, the maternity wards are going to be crowded in D.C. in 9 months).

But those think pieces exist. What exists far less is an acknowledgement that when our basic institutions don’t open, parents and caregivers who work outside the home can’t just do our work inside the home like nothing ever happened. There are diapers to change, baths to give, meals to prepare, and they do and should take precedence. And yes, this primarily impacts women.

The same extends to students. My alma mater, Georgetown University, now has a concept called “instructional continuity” that means that when classes are cancelled, students are often on the hook for doing something for the class during the same time. What an assumption that professors and students don’t have people depending on them in their real lives!

I’ve always hated the “work/life” concept and thought it was a marketing gimmick to cover up for the fact that our society throws women and caregivers to the wolves, even makes us feel guilty for it and like we are somehow personally deficient. But that’s a book and not a blog post.

For now, for modernity’s sake, for humanity’s sake:

Let a snow day be a snow day.

Goodbye, Yoga: On Parenting And Perpetual Loss

My daughter’s yoga studio is closing, and I am sad. Before I became a mother I would have sneered at that — it is particularly easy to sneer at women doing trivial things (basically just about anything) and having feelings about them.

But as I’ve written about here, starting baby yoga classes when she was 10 months old was a self-esteem boost I desperately needed at a time when I was working half-time, and feeling a diminished sense of accomplishment. I needed to get out of the house. I needed to have something on my calendar, somewhere to be. I needed to say I did something. Yoga gave me that.

But it also taught me how to play with my kid. I was not entirely comfortable singing goofy to her in front of other people before this class. We would do imaginative things alone together, but I still felt like I needed to be “cool” in front of adults. It was these classes that started opening my eyes to the joy of giving no fucks about looking mature while parenting.

I watched my daughter shift from being the youngest, most afraid, infant in the class to the girl who ran over to pull the parachute out before it was time. She sings and dances her yoga songs around the house. She does a terrific down dog for a kid who is two years old. Watching her learn — and to wait her turn to walk on the train and get a stamp, or have her name sung and chanted, or ring the chime and pass it to another child — filled my heart with pride. These were things I couldn’t have taught her at home.

As time went on, our life circumstances changed. My daughter enrolled in school (day care) full-time, and I went on to start a new organization. When you love what you do, it’s easy to work all the time, as I do and basically always have save my one brief stint as a half-time, stay-at-home mom. Suddenly our late Wednesday afternoons took on a new import. Whereas we had first started because I needed something to do, now I was continuing because I needed to carve out 45 minutes every week (or even third week) to not do, to invest in moving and being silly with my daughter.

More time passed and the late Wednesday family class was cancelled; not enough interest. It was replaced with an adult playtime yoga class, with kids encouraged to play with toys during the session. I was skeptical. How could I justify leaving work early not to enrich her, but me? This, too, was a learning experience. I told myself to be open — I had a few paid up classes, after all. Perhaps there was something of value in the new regime.

I considered the discomfort I felt in investing in myself versus doing something explicitly for my daughter. I still consider it, and find myself learning every time.

But also I challenged myself to take to heart what I’ve been saying for years: That sometimes we need to let one thing end in order to create space for something new and wonderful to enter our lives. Actively creating space has worked well for me in the past. The glamorous notion of leaping from one fully formed thing to another can often mean that the next thing is not nearly as interesting as giving yourself the mental space to dream up a new paradigm, then create it. This is why I have left multiple jobs without the next one lined up. Applying this to my personal life and my parenting life was challenging.

But it bore fruit. The new class was also quite nice. We had just hit a stride. I was getting that great yoga high and she was loving the chance to play with new toys in the studio. She would bring me plastic fruits as I breathed and did warrior poses. Sometimes she would ask to sit on my knee during a pose. Other times she’d be off in the playroom chatting with the other kids while I did a headstand, my shirt over my ribs and my round belly flopping exposed in the air — and me feeling a mega-triumph over the eating disorder that no longer controls my life.

When I learned the studio was closing, I wanted to cry. We went to our last class Saturday, and this time my daughter was the biggest kid there. The teacher announced it was the last class she was teaching there, and she might have to cry.

One of the most difficult parts of parenting is realizing that just when you think you’ve got it figured out, just when you’ve found your sense of anchor and permanence in a challenge that doesn’t play by rules written anywhere, it’s all gone. Your kid has grown out of the stage and the world no longer offers the same antidotes for younger kids now living that stage. Brand new becomes memory with alarming speed. Not just the pride and the giggles, but also the fear and the difficulty.

I am telling myself to enjoy the space that is being created by the end of something I love. I am digging deeper and telling myself it’s okay to grieve and create space at the same time. We can hold many things.

How To Explain The Benghazi And Planned Parenthood Hearings To Your Two-Year-Old Daughter

What’s this? 

It’s a hearing, sweetie. And we need to talk about something important.

What do you notice about the people asking questions?

Yes, they seem mad. Really mad. What else?

That’s right. They’re almost all boys. Usually when boys grow up we should call them men.

Now what about the person getting yelled at?

Yes, she’s not a boy.

So this is not fair, but it’s true: There are a lot of boys who grew up thinking they were better than girls.

Why?

People were mean and they were wrong in the old days. They thought only boys could be strong, and only girls should take care of other people. I know, that’s not at all like your friends! Now boys play with dolls, and girls are great at running and jumping and playing baseball.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for people to let go of things they learned when they were little, even when those things are mean and wrong.

The reason why they are picking on Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, and not boys, is that for a lot of people, these women represent more opportunities for girls. One could be our first woman president. The other works so that girls get to pick what to do with their lives.

A lot of boys with mean and wrong ideas don’t like that. So they’re trying to put them in their place.

What I want you to notice is that neither of them are giving up, even though the questions are really mean. If someone ever tries to bully you because you are a girl, you shouldn’t either.

And I will be so proud of you. I already am.

Hillary Clinton at Benghazi hearing

Video: September 2015 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed Pope Francis, parental leave, and women in STEM.

You can watch a video of the show here:

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That Would Be Me With A Toddler At The Pro-Choice Happy Hour

My daughter is two. She is a lovely, wonderful, vivacious girl. Her new thing is that she comes with me to pro-choice happy hours.

Before she was born, I was going to action/networking/professional-type stuff nearly every night of the week. Happy hours. Panel discussions. Volunteer phone-banks. Impromptu vigil for social justice? My candles were by the door. This is an easy habit to fall into as a young do-gooder, especially when you love what you do.

After she was born, I stopped doing most of these things. It was just too hard, especially when I was still nursing and rocking her to sleep. That’s changed, but babysitters are still costly and hard to find. And yes, after working all day, I like to spend time with her.

Does this make me less driven? Nope.

But yes, I had been missing some of the things I used to do.

I started questioning that. Yes, my responsibilities have changed, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a new way to re-engage with my old interests. So I started bringing my daughter to the pro-choice happy hour. It’s happened twice in the past few weeks.

I think of it as occupying my own life. I can be a parent, and still do things I love with my kid in tow. Even if kids aren’t explicitly invited. I can use my judgement and pick and choose what might work based on the situation and her needs at the moment. Occupying my life even though I’m a mom with a kid to watch isn’t just good for me and the kid, it’s good for everyone. Kids are part of life and we must include them.

I want my daughter to know that she’s welcome to be a part of the interests I hold outside our family. I want her to know it’s okay for women and moms to be part of public life. I want the people at the pro-choice happy hour to see that we can make some of our activist spaces kid-friendly with hardly any work, and I’m happy to share the joy of my daughter with the many, many activists who support abortion rights as a matter of human dignity and also happen to love babies (believe it!).

Yes, we’re only there for 20-30 minutes on the way home from daycare, and we sit to the side with her yogurt or hummus and pretzels, but I get to see my friends and be a part of the social side of a movement I work in.

Occupying my life takes other forms, too. Turns out that having a kid means you get a lot less sleep, and don’t always get a chance to shower and/or get ready. Well, this happens to me regularly now. Just today I did a meeting on Skype video with bed-head from several hours before. I’ve stopped feeling shame about this, and invested in pomade instead. I’d rather do the things I care about than waste time or energy berating myself, or take myself out of the running because I have a kid who doesn’t serve me breakfast in bed and warm my bathrobe.

By watching me, I hope she will see that mothers can be whoever the hell they want to be. I have been enjoying showing myself that, as well.

 

Holding A Baby And An iPhone

I live-tweeted labor. The first night of my daughter’s life I realized I was going to be nursing for long stretches overnight; I began using my phone to stay awake. Every night I spent hours nursing her quietly, listening to her sweet little swallows, and surfing the Internet like it was the best Gidget movie in the world. I developed eye strain, and my carpal tunnel flared up again.

Eventually maternity leave was over. I held a different job then, one I loved, but I was also a rare part-time employee on a staff of full-timers. That meant checking in on email all the time anyway, so I wouldn’t fall behind.

Work-life balance is this elusive thing. It’s a psychic pair of skinny jeans, designed to punish. Work-life balance is not a gender-neutral phrase. Work-life balance may as well be Morse code for throwing women to the wolves. We are expected to take care of our families, make nice food that looks like it belongs on Instagram, and shatter glass ceilings through perseverance and sheer will. (Friendly reminder: There are no personal solutions to societal problems.)

Generally I suck at work/life balance, as do a good portion of the people I know, because we are expected to work all the time and we have the Internet with us almost everywhere we go.

And yet I’m not complaining: I’m fortunate that my line of work so happens to be my life passion. Still, if work/life balance means having two separate spheres of life that are both well-tended, nope, I don’t have that.

I’m the woman who is opening up Slack for conversations with a colleague while my daughter eats in a high chair next to me. You can catch me firing off work emails at the playground. And I’m ashamed by how often I look at Facebook when she is in my care.

My daughter has taught me a love of presence. We should listen to crickets and wonder what they are. An airplane overhead is worth pointing to and talking about. Silence is a lavish gift — seriously, take it when you can get it.

It is hard for me to reconcile my actual and/or perceived need to be always available online with being the attentive mother I want to be. And yet, I am terrifically proud to be a working mother, and I claim that title. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to realize that the woman suffrage poster in her bedroom is not just wall art, and that her mom is a troublemaker.

Ultimately, I am doing both. Sometimes I hold my daughter and write emails. Sometimes I push the stroller and go on Twitter rants.  I am a parent and a working feminist at the same time.

Parenting, Self-Esteem, And Toddlers Holding One Leg Up

My self-esteem kind of fell to the shits some time after my daughter was born. It wasn’t postpartum depression; I’d made it okay through the weeks of shifting hormones and months of endless infant crying. I cried twice after she was born; once in frustration that I wasn’t getting to hold her as much as I wanted during what felt like a never-ending cycle of visitors, and once that first day after my husband went to work and everyone was gone. Other than that, I was fine.

Until I wasn’t. I started losing confidence. New parenthood can be isolating, physically: You just can’t leave the house as easily as you used to.

To compound matters, I had less to say about work, because I was working half-time. I had been used to connecting with people on the basis of work.

Sometimes it’s said that people who talk about their kids are boring. Emotionally, I bought right into that, while intellectually I still know this is a feminist issue that angers me. Frowning on kid-talk serves as a way to silence and trivialize women since we often find ourselves serving as primary caregivers to any children we may have.

All of this meant I became more isolated still.

I realized in the grocery store that I was getting out of tune with myself; it was becoming too hard to buy basic things like pasta or peanut butter. I would look at multiple varieties and not know which to pick. I didn’t trust myself. Decisions that should have taken three seconds were taking 10.

So I wrote an email to two of my closest, dearest friends, telling them that I felt my self-esteem was hitting a lower patch and asking for advice on what they thought I should do. I also asked my husband for ideas.

I think, honestly, it surprised some of them, although they all rose to the occasion, were supportive, and offered awesome ideas. There is some taboo in admitting when you don’t feel great. There shouldn’t be.

Our security in ourselves and the way we feel about the world are hardly static. You could even be the strongest person in the world and still hit rough patches. Admitting the crap times when you have them is a really helpful step to tossing them down the Litter Genie.

Through conversations with my lovelies, I came to realize that what I was really missing was a sense of accomplishment, and that was what was decking my self-esteem. When I had been working around the clock, I had stacks of achievements in the detritus of my to-do lists. People recognized my work. I had the ability to write for pleasure 20 times more often than before the baby, and get feedback in the process.

Motherhood didn’t feel like that. Every time I changed her outfit, my dear sweet daughter seemed to spit up profusely again. Even putting her down for a nap wasn’t much accomplishment, since she’d usually wake up and start crying almost immediately. What I needed, bluntly, was something new that we could do. I knew it had to be us and not just me, or I wouldn’t get the accomplishment near often enough.

So we tried a baby yoga class. And we started coming back, week after week. We’ve been going for almost a year and a half now. Thing is, it worked, and actually fairly quickly. I just needed something new, something I could point to as something I was getting done. As time went on, and my daughter grew, the class became irresistible fun. I love to watch her sing, dance, and do a tree pose (A DEAD-SERIOUS TODDLER DOING A TREE POSE!).

Recently I shared this story in a workshop I facilitated on pregnancy after an eating disorder, as an example of how it’s totally cool to speak up during the divots of life and work toward your own mental health. A doctor who was also leading the workshop responded to my claim that probably none of the other parents in the room knew how important that 45-minute class is to me. She said: It probably is for them, too.

We need to be honest that parenting is not always easy, that life is not always easy, that it’s okay to experience ups and downs and talk about them. It’s actually a sign of strength. At least, that’s the message I hope I’m teaching my daughter.

Video: November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the 2014 election results, paid parental leave and advancing women in the workplace, and women as peacemakers. You can watch a video of the show here:

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