The Forgotten Homework Lesson

homework-1950sDear R,

I’m sure you were cursing me yesterday because I refused to run home and get the homework you’d forgotten. I know you were frustrated. Understandable–I would have been too if it were me. I saw how hard you worked–even after football practice and getting home late–to get it done. It must piss you off that after all that, you’re still going to be marked down for not handing it in.

I’m sure you thought I was just looking for a way to say “I told you so.” But what you don’t know is that it hurt me to see you upset and frustrated and unsure. What you don’t know is that I had to remind myself more than once that interrupting my plans to go and get it for you was the worst thing I could do.

Why? Because this is one of those stupid little life lessons that suck to learn. It’s one of those little things that suck even more because it’s not that you didn’t do the work–you just forgot it. And let’s face it, we all forget things. Heck, I forget what I went to the kitchen for at least five times a day.

What you don’t know is that the “I told you so” part of remembering to put your homework in your backpack is only one small part of this sucky little lesson. That’s the easy part. Another part? Realizing it’s ok to make mistakes. Realizing that no one is perfect. Part of the forgotten homework lesson is learning how to own your mistake. Part of the forgotten homework lesson is not looking for someone else to blame.

What you don’t know is that I’d be doing you a disservice if  I swooped in every time you forgot something or had trouble with something or had a difficult decision to make. What you don’t know is how much I need you to realize that my time is valuable, that it is not ok to assume I will drop everything simply so the you will not have to be in an uncomfortable situation.

These small sucky lessons? They teach you how to hold your head up and admit you made a mistake. They teach you how to handle disappointment, from within and without. They teach you how to accept accountability. Today it was only a piece of Spanish homework, but eventually it’s going to be someone’s feelings, or someone’s heart.

franklin_d-_sergent_who_is_13_years_old_and_in_the_fifth_grade_does_his_homework_-_nara_-_541349I didn’t bring you your homework because you need to learn to rely on yourself. You’re still young, but these little responsibilities add up to bigger ones. Looking after your homework now is looking after your body later. It’s making sure you have a condom in your wallet. It’s making sure you have an out if you need to extricate yourself from a tricky situation. It’s making sure you if you hurt someone you take responsibility, if you screw up, you accept it, you learn from it, you fix it and move on.

Who would have guessed there were so many lessons to be learned in a piece of forgotten homework, eh? But the biggest one is this: There’s no shame in messing up now and again. The real shame would be if I never let you do it.

Love,
Mom

Fade to Pink

older-womenOver the summer, I watched my mother get ready to go out with friends. She stood in front of me, smoothing her top, and asked if she looked all right.

She looked fine.

(By fine I mean eh.)

“Come on,” I said. I pulled out a hot-pink blouse hanging in her closet. We dug out some chunky, turquoise jewelry, pulled out a pair of strappy sandals and voila. My mother recently let her hair grow out to a beautiful silvery white and it looked gorgeous against the pink.

“It’s not too…much?” she asked.

“Fuck it, Ma,” (how I love being an adult with my mother—which inevitably involves many four letter words–and booze), “you’re seventy-one. Now’s not the time to fade into the background.”

I wasn’t saying it to appease her, I really meant it. She smiled and then, in an act reminiscent of my kids, spilled something down the front of her blouse. Luckily we found a sunshine yellow one to take its place.

Women are expected, after a certain age, to gently fade into the background without muss or fuss. It’s generally assumed that somewhere between child bearing age and death we should gracefully make room for the next generation of young women who are, presumably, pea-cocking and preening in order to attract a mate.

whenn-im-an-old-woman

Screw that.

I shall not fade gently into that good wall. No thanks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire, intention, or even capability of attracting attention of the sexual kind. Far from it. In fact, on a night out with a group of women recently, I realized with relief that I have reached an age where I could legitimately be the mother of some of those young men. And not like a teen mom either. Far from filling me with dread, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom, because even though I’ve never defined myself by my sexual attractiveness quotient, let’s face it–I live in the real world and I’m not a cyborg. But just because I’m not interested in attracting sexual attention doesn’t mean I am going to suddenly embrace beige and fade into wall-flower status.

(A note to the young women on the dance floor suspiciously eyeing a group of slightly drunk mothers happily grinding to Justin Timberlake: Rest assured, we’re not competing for the attention of your male peers. Most of us have kids up our asses all day long, the last thing we want is someone else hanging around near there. The idea that a group of mothers on a night out are after anything more than a few glasses of wine and not having to put their kids to bed is….well, hilarious, really.)

The older I get, the louder I get, in volume, opinion, and color. Over the past five or seven years, a swath of hot pink has insinuated itself into my wardrobe and lifestyle. My cell phone was pink. My Danish bike is bright, hot pink. Hell, I even dyed chunks of my hair hot pink last year.

Think about that for a moment. Instead of letting my hair fade to gray, I dyed it hot pink.

Hot pink is not ultra feminine or soft. It’s kind of in your face. I’m old enough to realize I am not ultra feminine though I gleefully embrace certain aspects of femininity. I’m not particularly soft either (unless it’s orphans, then marshmallow soft). I guess I am kind of in your face though.

If the maiden phase of a female is all about sexual attraction and the mother is about softness, then the path to crone is definitely paved with, Oh, hell no.

I’m not advocating if you’re over forty you should go out and drown yourself in hot pink. I’m not opining that you should march into your hairdresser and demand blue streaks in your hair. I’m saying don’t hide yourself away. Don’t assume you have reached a point in life where all you can do is fade away until you blend into the concrete.

I don’t know about you but I have a LOT left to say.

So buy the sequins if you love them. Buy the sparkle. Buy the stilettos or the mini-skirt if you want. Buy the bikini and the screaming orange scarf. Swathe yourself in color. Dye your hair fuchsia. Or don’t. Do what makes you feel good, not what some market researcher tells you you should be doing. Don’t be afraid to call attention to yourself. You still have a lot left to give and do and say.

Don’t buy into the fact that after a certain age we have nothing left to offer just because our breasts are headed south and our asses are starting to sag. Don’t fade into the background. Sing, dance to Justin Timberlake, wear bright colors. Live.

advanced-style-ladiesWhen my mother came home from her lunch I asked if anyone commented on her outfit.

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe how many compliments I got!” she beamed.

At seventy-one, my mother’s got plenty of brightness left.

At forty-six, I’m just starting to realize how much I have.

Screw fading to gray. I’m fading to pink.

 

Hear Me Roar

sisterhood-is-powerfulI talk a lot (no, really, A LOT) about my passion for women’s issues. I talk a lot (A LOT) about how important it is to change the way we think about women, talk about women, and treat women. I talk a never-ending lot about systematic sexism, about reproductive rights.

But I’ve never explained why I’m passionate about these things.

I’ve never explained why I roar.

I roar because for most of my life I have been made to understand I am less than. Sometimes the message is subtle. Sometimes it is as clear as a cartoon anvil landing on your head.

The problem is, I do not feel less than. I don’t wake feeling less than. I don’t approach a situation or a problem and feel I’m unable to do, achieve, or be simply because I am a woman.

And so I roar. I roar because there is nothing about me that feels less than.

There are things I am good at, just as there are things I am not so great at. Some of those things even fall along stereotypical gender lines. I can’t read a map to save my life. In fact, I can’t even follow the GPS on my phone. But while that means I probably shouldn’t get a job as an Uber driver, it doesn’t make me less of a person. Or a person deserving less.

I roar to make sure we make that distinction.

I am passionate because I believe in the strength of women, even though that strength may not be as physically evident as a male’s. A woman’s strength comes from a willingness to compromise, to empathize, to listen. It comes from an instinct for adaptation, change, and growth.

I roar to recognize that strength.

I believe, passionately and to distraction, that empowering women to make decisions about their own bodies is crucial to the function of society. Yes, this includes abortion, but it includes so much more. Providing women with information, resources and access to make informed decisions about the very personal and complex issues we face as women affects every level of society, from the micro to the macro.

Demanding bodily autonomy for women is why I roar, continually and repeatedly.

I roar for your sisters and your daughters so that one day they will know what it is like to walk down the street without having to cross over when a man approaches, to run through the woods with both headphones in, to walk home without their keys in their fist.

Women should not be raped or beaten or killed for rejecting a man’s advances, to satisfy the honor of some imagined wrong, to appease a God. As a woman, I don’t want or need gun-toting advocates rallying outside of a rapist’s house as protection. I want the culture that allows, condones, and yes, justifies rape to stop. That is the protection I want.

That is why I roar.

I roar because women are not punching bags or blow-up dolls. I roar because we exist outside of the Madonna/whore continuum. We are multi-dimensional, we are complex and we are flawed and as such, we choose different paths.

I roar to make sure that we are not forced onto one path. That both the road less travelled and the well-worn path are equally recognized and valued.

I roar so that men understand that if we sometimes put our heads down, it is not because we are weak. It is because we have been strong enough to know that sometimes it’s the only way we will survive.

I roar for the girls who have been silenced, burned, cut, sold or given away. I roar for the women who have been beaten, raped, killed. I roar for those women whose voices are shuttered, who cannot roar for themselves.

roarSo share this with your daughter so she knows I roar so that she won’t feel less than. Share this with your mother or your sister or aunt so they know I roar loud enough for them. Share this with all the women who roar so they know their voices are not alone.

Roar with me.

 

 

 

 

There’s No Medal At the End of Motherhood

Last night some friends and I went to see Bad Moms. After explaining to the non-Americans that yes, shit like that really does happen in American PTA meetings, we talked about the idea of women doing it all.

Why do women so often feel that no matter what we do as mothers it is never enough? Why do we carry around the idea that if only we do better, do more, then we’ll win at it?

Motherhood isn’t a sport you can train for. It’s not a game you can win.

There’s no medal waiting for you at the end of motherhood.

You work your ass off. You give up cheese and wine and deli meat for nine months. You stop dying your hair. Most of us give up a a body part or two (did I ever tell you how being pregnant wrecked my teeth?). You give up sleep and sex and alone time. You give up hobbies, the Sunday paper in peace, Saturday afternoon naps. You give up crappy take out for dinner five nights out of seven, impromptu happy hours, spontaneous, last-minute vacations, holidays out of school term. A lot of us give up our identity, a career, money, high heel shoes, dreams.

But guess what? There’s still no freaking medal at the end.

Once you are a mother, you’ll be a mother until you shuffle off this mortal coil. It gets easier and then harder again, then presumably easier. It’s like head lice, you think you’re good but it keeps coming back. But it doesn’t end.

Do you know what’s at the end of motherhood? Death. Death is at the end of motherhood. And even then you’ll probably be dragged out in therapy sessions.

Motherhood is not the Olympics. You’re not going to come in first just because your Rice Krispie treats are made with homemade marshmallow. You’re not going to win the gold because your kid does three activities or because you made a conscious decision for them to do no activities and play around in the mud all day instead. You’re not going to get to stand on the podium in your Mom podium pants because you schlepped your kid around to play on three different teams or learn Latin. You’re not going to smash a mother record because you get by on the least amount of sleep or breast-fed your kid the longest. No matter what you squeeze into your day or what you don’t, what kind of cakes you bake or buy, you’re never going to get a medal.

ussr_female_handball_team_wins_1980_olympic_games

There’s no silver for you because you puree kale in your mini food-processor and freeze it in little cubes. There’s no bronze for me because I try to write honestly about motherhood.

Motherhood isn’t a race. It’s not an endurance sport that requires training and multiple hydration stops (unless you’re talking wine). Sure, we all want to find our personal best, but that personal best shouldn’t be about how much we can fit in (or conversely, how little we can do), but finding a balance between raising children to be healthy, functioning adults and being healthy, functioning adults ourselves.

Trying to do too much, to be all things, to be the best at all things–maybe it might make you feel like you’re doing it all, but at the end?

Still no medal.

If you’re lucky you might get some flowers and brunch on the first Sunday in May.

You can bake the best cakes and throw the best parties and sew the best Halloween costumes. You can create Van Gogh inspired lunches or be the one who volunteers for every field trip, who sits in the front row for every assembly and concert. Or you can brag loudly about doing none of those things.

There’s still no medal.

The moms in Bad Moms were exaggerated examples (mostly), but they were recognizable enough to make me question why so many of us take a thing like motherhood, which is hard enough, and make it into something impossible?

Women are smart and talented and intelligent and creative and capable. Then we have kids and all of that multi-faceted-ness I love about women gets squeezed into the narrow channel of motherhood where it bulges like a hernia. Eventually it explodes into something resembling what we have now: Mothers going for the gold.

Being a good mom–or even a bad mom–doesn’t have to be the sole defining factor of your existence. It can be an important one, even the most important one if that’s what you choose, but don’t let anyone else make that choice for you. Because even though motherhood may feel like a competition at times, it’s not.

There are no podium pants. There are no podiums. No one’s going to raise a flag or sing an anthem or ask you for an interview or put you on a box of diapers as the face of Motherhood. No ticker tape parades or entries into Wikipedia. There are no trophies or consolation prizes.

There is no medal at the end of motherhood. The reward is kids who grow up to lead respectful lives, who contribute in some way to the betterment of society–even if that betterment is being a kind soul. That’s your reward. And it’s worth more than any medal.

Just don’t kill yourself trying to get there or you’ll never get to enjoy the result.