Spoiled

Rampant privilege ahead.

I’m not a social media junkie but I have accounts with the big companies. I use them all differently and some of them infrequently. Twitter is useful when I’m working at a conference, but I use Facebook to keep up with the lives of hundreds of friends. Many of them were only close colleagues for a month or two but the intimate quality of the Foreign Service means I knew their children, had dinner at their homes, and helped them drink the whiskey from their bottom desk drawers on the hard days. It’s a delight to see their lives all over the world and a window to a former life. Mostly, these days, I use Instagram because it’s the pictures that matter most to me and is less of a political platform for the obsessed, irrational, and uninformed.

I also own a smartphone and on it the apps that keep me connected. I am embarrassed to admit that I actually spent time ranting to my wife when Facebook split out the chatting messenger function to a different app. I have changed my tune. I’m incredibly grateful for the change. Because I can’t be there anymore. I can’t see all of the terrible, horrible news my friends share. I can’t see the terrible, horrible bias of their friends. I can’t do anything but crack the door to peek out at the bullshit that is life right now. Call it self-preservation. Beyond the email notifications I get for a few close friends, I don’t see a single picture or hear interesting anecdotes. My larger circle is altogether gone and I miss them. But not enough to endure this world. Not right now.

Emergency Turkey

I have a lot of rage about my mother. And my father’s latest downslide. And our recent trip to North Carolina where my wife changed her shirt for fear of being outed as gay. I have a lot of anxiety about all those things, in addition to anxiety about The State of the World and how every one of my friends reacts to it. I have anxiety about going to work. About holding my wife’s hand. About, frankly, everything. It’s a terrible mess.

Things that aren’t a mess (yet) or are a delightful mess to be in include…

that Tuesday where your Thanksgiving guest list jumps from 17 to 21.
and subsequently you are beyond grateful that the new Wegmans is offering turkeys for a song.
and you realize you actually have a table cloth long enough for a table of 17 as well as enough plates and silverware.
and you are relieved that the Foreign Service taught you one thing, which was how to have a large dinner without panicking.
and to have enough plates.
but also that your wife is an event planner, who has been around the catering block, and who also makes spreadsheets.
so you can cheat off the one from last year when you though a mere 16 was a feat.
but that, for some reason, you didn’t take Tuesday off even though you took Monday and Wednesday.
and that you scheduled meetings all day until 5.
but then you canceled them.
all of them.
and came home to thaw the emergency turkey instead.

I Never Want to See Another Safety Pin

Those safety pins make me mad. I feel my stomach tightening as if it is squeezing into a compressed, knotted, sickening stone. Perhaps it is different where you are. Here, my workplace is handing out tiny pins. Here, the straight white males are proudly displaying them. Women, too, I’m not leaving them out. But this is my paragraph and I’m not mad at women right now. Except the women who told my daughter that it was okay for her to be sexually assaulted. I have plenty of feelings about that. How long will you wear them? Is it like changing your facebook profile pic? Is there some fucking etiquette where we’re all going to culturally agree that we’re not furious anymore? And when is that going to be? A month? A month to mourn? And what are we saying? You, marginalized one, come and tell me your woes that I, as someone with the emotional capital, can help you to bear? Why then is your safety pin so SMALL? Why should someone who needs…what…space?.. have to hunt for it? If you have such room to speak, can you not yell? And not into the void. At those who are in office. Even the ones you elected, all of them. Just because you may have voted for them doesn’t mean you agree with everything, right? And don’t think, because you didn’t vote for hate, you are off this particular hook. You aren’t exempt for not voting for those people. You don’t get an emotional high ground to stand on. You, too, have to YELL. Pins are not yelling. When I was standing, swaying, in a hallway, stifling uncontrollable sobs, I wasn’t looking for pins. In fact, had I seen one, I might have actually avoided you. Because your pin tells me exactly one thing about you. You know how to work a safety pin.

(Rage and sorrow status: blinding)

Here are two links with more thoughtful safety pin perspectives. I think the first is persuasive (spoiler: safety pins, yay). The second is notable for this:

‘Ask yourself what wearing the safety pin means –and if you will sincerely stand up for targeted individuals. Vulnerable communities do not need any more silent, ineffectual “allies.”’

Should You Wear a Safety Pin – Say Something Sunday
Beyond the Safety Pin: The Work Begins Now

Sister Mothers

One of RR’s most favorite things is to have or do the same thing as I do. She does it more with Debra than she does with me and I suppose that could be because of some complicated birth/non-birth mother thing but I’m going to assume it’s more because she’s at a stage of taking joy in finding commonalities. She loves that our hair is the same color. If it touches as we read or cuddle (I KNOW, RR cuddling!) she slyly looks at me with a giant grin and says “sisters!” This comes out more as a growling, troll-under-the-bridge sissssterrrsss but she’s a friendly troll, and I’m a friendly troll so there it is. Sisssterrrsss.

Neither Debra and I went through that my mom is my best friend period, and no one would say we look so much like our mothers at our age that we are just like sisters. I don’t want to cast myself in the role of RR’s sister since I know someday in a fit of rage she’ll probably play the “you’re not my real mother” card. So now RR says sisssttterrr motherrrsss as much as she says sisters. I’ll take it. Examples of other things that make RR say it: singing in harmony, saying the same thing at the same time, saying jinx as soon as we do it, having the same cold, ache, or ailment, liking the same ice cream flavor, and wearing the skirts at the same time. She’s a little disappointed when she hopes we’ll have the same something or other and we don’t, but she handles it gracefully.

(Rage and sorrow status: so ashamed of feeling privileged enough to have panic attacks that I’ve mostly stopped having them publicly)

Clearly Crisis

Such a terrible moment to write again.  It has been so long and there’s always so much to say about RR that often life runs away with the keyboard. I’m not saying much of anything this week. I’m trying to find coping mechanisms for what was, to me, a shambles of an election – one in which the popular vote did not (yet again) reflect the electoral vote and one which decided that a man who was primarily known in popular culture for being an extravagant, gold-plated-toilets and gilded ceilings reality TV star could be president more effectively than a seasoned female political professional. The decision itself being awful but the aftermath, for me, being significantly worse. Coming to work to face the tyranny of respect, bullying, and asking marginalized people to seek out allies instead of the other way around is panic-inducing. Knowing I sit in rooms every day with those assholes – the women who hold a double standard for women, the bullies who are demanding we all respect the decision they made to vote for a platform of racism, sexism, violence against women, and every other flavor of bigotry and hate – it’s crippling. I can’t even open my inbox to do basic tasks without facing some well-meaning call to silence in the guise of unity and the public good. I’m paralyzed. I’m becoming acquainted with the sudden, embarrassing, humiliating, uncontrollable panic events which leave me breathless and sobbing without warning. I’m facing a constant inner argument between belittling my reactions as a privileged, could pass for straight, well-off, white person and desperately seeking some sort of self-care that will allow me to do my job, leave my house, care for my child, and keep a shred of self-respect. I’m losing both sides. It’s awful, humbling, and frightening. I can’t get a handle on it.

As one of my efforts to pull my brain back, I’m writing here, hoping that a short paragraph or two daily will help recenter me around what’s actually happening rather than what could, or did happen. I have always loved your comments but, like much of the rest of my life, I’ve turned them off and will leave them that way for the time being. Tune in or not, I wouldn’t blame you if you turned out the lights on the world.

The Night I Was Disappointed in Myself

When I was young, I spent hours sobbing in my room. Big, gasping, wails usually brought on by some great injustice. When I was very young, it was the white patent leather shoes a size too small that my mother insisted I not wear to church. It was the silver plastic trash sacks she would fill with our things if we left them on the floor. It was the talent show I had to miss because I forgot to bring my spelling home. When I was older, it was being the caretaker for my sisters in the summer. It was having to clean the blender my mother left out to dry on the counter, with some green protein powder clinging in scaly patches between the blades. I asked her and asked her to soak it after she used it. Eventually, you lose your temper. The point is, it was little wrongs and big ones and over and over I cried alone in my room, loudly calling for my mother, even knowing she wasn’t ever coming.

You might disagree with me. Maybe that’s the way it is. She only accomplished one thing: showing me how not to treat a child. I never felt punished or chastened. Yes, I did eventually stop crying, but I also stopped loving her a little bit at a time. There’s plenty still there, of course, but you know what I’m saying. Less.

As a grown-up with a child, there have been plenty of days when I’ve wanted to close the door on my own tiny wailing soul and walk away, leaving her to work it out however long it took. Although Debra and I do sometimes let her cry, there’s that moment you can hear it – this isn’t going to resolve in anger. Only patience and understanding. And in that I can see where my mother failed. It’s hard to take the first step, to be the grown-up, and extend a compassionate hug. 

Tonight I found myself walking in my mother’s shoes. RR rebelled, rebelled further at my scolding, and then threw a mighty tantrum. I sent her to her room and before I shut the door I told her that she could come out when she pulled herself together. It was my mother’s voice. It was my mother’s hand that slammed the door closed. And I could see exactly where she stood in that second. I went into the other room and cringed. I let RR sob on and on, even though I hated myself for doing it. She has to learn to work it out, I told myself. She has to learn

Learn what though? Learn her mother doesn’t want to talk it over? Learn bigger people are always right? She wasn’t learning respect in there sobbing. She wasn’t learning not to stamp her feet and whine. She wasn’t learning anything at all. Except, maybe, she might be learning to love me less. 

And so, I got up and, I’m ashamed to admit it, still had a chill in my voice when I opened her door. Instead of coming in, I told her that she had lost much of her reading time already and would lose more if she didn’t pull herself together. She stopped crying the moment I opened the door, red and tear-stained, but she had put on her pajamas, exactly as I had asked. That’s all I could see as I walked away. One tiny person in too small pajamas, doing her best to do what I wanted her to do even though every thing had fallen apart around us. I still felt terrible. I didn’t feel like I’d done the right thing. But I had done something.

There was silence and then her feet came tiptoeing down the hall. I just need a little bit of love, she said.

And so we cuddleded and hugged and she was all smiles for bedtime. I hope I’m a better person the next time we come to this point. But I’m pretty happy that this point didn’t come until now, six years in. I can see where I’ve walked in my mother’s footsteps and I can see where I stepped aside, not enough, but I hope far enough for RR.

Six-Year-Old Cursing

Have I mentioned to you how much we love camp?

RR has been learning lots at camp. She is learning things mostly from the 8 and under set which gives a certain sort of spin that makes you wonder what’s going on in their little minds. Certainly they are importing parents, brothers, aunts, neighbors, sisters, friends thoughts and beliefs but in a distilled way that makes you wonder what was actually said on the other end of the line.

The first time she came home chattering about her newfound religious beliefs, Debra and I gave each other the side eye. What on earth was going on at definitely-not-church-affiliated camp? It was disconcerting to be participating in a sort of theological game of telephone where some child’s parents said one thing, that child told my child, and I was hearing some rendition that had been hybridized by two people who can’t tie their own shoes. We let it lie. On the whole, it’s harmless. In fact, it’s helpful. Better to start out knowing that everyone has beliefs and opinions and not everyone has to have the same ones.

On the other hand, the swearing I could do without. Surely RR’s school has prevented a fair amount of conversationally-transmitted blight and I have no doubt that the new school has just as low of a tolerance. But camp found us at dinner the other night and between bites she asked, “Mama, what’s the f-word?”

I don’t know how Debra’s mother handled this priceless piece of childhood, but mine was more than happy to tell me what words meant just so long as I a) didn’t use them and b) didn’t ask about the wrong ones. I’m in the words have power camp and if you really know what a curse word means, a female dog for instance, the power to hurt gets sidelined a bit. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt at all, but we have A LOT of words, and there’s no need to rely on a few ridiculous ones when you really want to let loose.

So I told her and she nodded. And I mentioned that it was fine to say it in her bedroom or to herself but that she couldn’t use it in public. Fortunately, she didn’t ask me what sex was because that’s a conversation not covered in What Makes A Baby and that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Then we moved on to the a-word and the b-word. We all had a good chuckle at the s-word since we covered that one extensively the time the bed broke. After that though, she asked what the c-word was and there’s something deeply wrong about saying the word cunt at the dinner table. That was about the time that Debra mentioned that under no circumstances was RR to be the one enlightening her friends. Tell them to go ask their mothers, she said.

The rest of the dinner was spent with RR muttering fuckfuckfuck quietly in between bits of broccoli.

We were not nearly as composed when she was talking to a toy in the backseat and she said shut up. We were on her so fast I think I saw her head spin. Not in our house, not in our car, not in a box, not with a fox. No ma’am. She said it one more time under her breath and I thought Debra would pull the car over and take her out by an ear. Thanks camp, for everything.