I often think it is the men who have fucked things up. I know. But still.
I am the mother of a son dancing awkwardly among other mothers of sons. I wish we knew someone who had daughters, I recently said to a friend. I am compelled to remind my mama-sisters that our sole purpose is to raise these boys to be strong feminists. To teach them that women are equal, that no means no, that honor and respect go hand in hand with just about all things in life.
I wonder aloud if I am doing this: Is my son merely parroting back my beliefs or does he see — really see — the beauty in all of us, in social justice, in saving that which needs to be saved? We build bridges, not walls, I tell him. It really is that simple.
We watch the late night comedians, but we are past the point of shock. Nothing that happens in the world surprises us anymore. And the irony of the humor is that it no longer plays like a fictionalized account of the news. The truth is ironic enough.
At school, my son tells me, there are kids who cheer for the president. They don’t see the irony or or the unbelievable hypocrisy of it all. They feel empowered. There’s an undertone of superiority, a not in my back yard elitist attitude among his peers that troubles me. I wonder if these kids are parroting their parents’ dinner conversations or if they truly believe the words they throw at each other like fastballs from the pitcher’s mound.
I’ve stopped following two of my writing groups on FB. I grew weary of the bickering. Squabbles over race, religion, who is woke and who isn’t. Within these small groups, anger and judgment has taken the place of kindness and sisterhood. Navigating it became a chore. There are better ways I can spend my time.
My son can’t wait for school to be out. There is a smallness to his world. He gravitates toward the few teachers who comment on the lessons hidden between the lines. An acquaintance told me she is thrilled with the direction our country is taking. Close the borders, she cried. Like my son, I can’t wait for school to be out, to escape, run away, even for just a little while.
I go to political meetings. I compose letters for like-minded friends so they can write to their reps in DC. I preach slow and steady progress, the importance of upcoming local elections, the imperative of flipping the house and maybe even the senate in 2018. I see no real end to the nightmare, but I act anyway, I do what I can. I organize and empower and mobilize; I concentrate not on changing hearts and minds, but on giving a voice to those whose hearts and minds are already in the right place — including, even, my son.
In the mornings I walk with a friend, or sometimes alone. I used to listen to Rachel Maddow but grew weary of her sensationalist shock and awe. She is the liberal Fox News. I don’t question her reporting, but I can’t stomach her delivery. Now I listen to Pod Save America and pine for the days when the grownups were in charge.
I never knew I cared this much. For years, I took my beliefs at face value. I felt safe in my small town. I walked through life with the confidence of my freedoms. But I don’t feel safe anymore, and it’s not terrorists who frighten me, but the willingness of so many to chip away at human dignity. To strip away the rights of those who are vulnerable and marginalized. The fear is pervasive.
Yesterday I was texting with a friend about the Paris Climate Agreement. There’s little to say that hasn’t been said. How anyone could think this move is good for the U.S. is beyond me. Even if the details of the accord are worth quibbling over, the symbolism of pulling out, of separating ourselves from the rest of the world, is shameful on every level.
This is what I tell my son: We are not special. We don’t deserve more or less. As individuals or as a nation. We are not special. But what we had… well, that was something special indeed. Two interesting points: “A constitutional democracy succeeds only if the constitution reflects democratic values alive in the citizenry,” and “Only four presidential democracies have lasted longer than 30 years.” The four? The United States, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Colombia. Think about that. Of those four, go ahead, google Venezuela and Colombia — political overview.
I have taken to calling our democracy fragile, but beautiful. And if you know your world politics, you know that a number of countries have tried to create what our forefathers created. But of those countries, almost all ended in a dictatorship that led to a military coup. Authoritarianism is alive and well. I could speculate endlessly about the cause: lack of education, racism, xenophobia, greed, a breakdown in democratic values?
And yet, I do not believe that the vast majority of Americans are okay with the path we are on. Nor do I believe that there are simple answers to these complex problems. What I do know, without a doubt, is that these are dangerous times. When we elect leaders who have a blatant disregard for the rule of the law, who think they can go rogue, ignore the system designed to curtail their power, well then I think we need to send up flares.
I worry about my son’s generation. Old enough to understand what is played out on the world stage, but too young to have a voice. They will inherit the scorched earth, and yet none of this was their choice. I think about my son’s peers, cheering for a man who makes no sense. I think about all that we hoped to give them.
Someone will inevitably tell me to pray. Give it up to God. If only it were that easy. I read today that one of our politicians — and no, I don’t remember which one — thinks that if things get bad enough here on earth, God will step in and handle it. This news slips in and out of my consciousness. God is who they turn to when they choose not to take responsibility. The atrocities rendered in the name of God are yet another long and complicated history of people simply treating other people like shit.
The scenes of this life dance around me like pollen on the wind. I am a mother, a wife, a pre-existing condition. I have lived a life of privilege. And I have often turned a blind eye to things I cannot control or do not understand. Today I am guilty of all of this, but also of giving up on those who are already gone. I am not trying to change hearts and minds, only to give a voice to those whose hearts and minds are in the right place.
I tell my son we build bridges, not walls. But it is not that simple. I cannot bridge this one gap. I cannot figure out how to speak to those who disagree without losing my mind. Every conversation I have with someone who is undeclared in their beliefs is a study in superficial banter.
Today is hard. Tomorrow will be hard. But I advocate slow and steady progress. The one thing, the only thing, we cannot ever do is give up. I am the mother of a son dancing awkwardly among other mothers of sons. My sole purpose is to raise my boy to be a strong feminist. To teach him that women are equal, that all lives matter, that honor and respect go hand in hand with just about everything in this world. And maybe, just maybe, there are other mothers of sons and daughters out there teaching their children the same thing. Sometimes I believe this is our only hope.