Well, I would if only I could take the best parts from both and ditch the rest. If I could take a little splice of that one and a little slice of the other and stitch them together with pink thread into some sort of Frankenstein creature type of thing, zap it all with Mom juice and presto change-o, perfect kid!
If only, if only, if only!
If only I could take the philosophical musings from one and pair them with the confidence of the other. If I could take the calm, slow to anger personality of that one and splice it with the self-awareness of the other one and bolt it all together at the neck….
I’d take a dash of the big one’s humor and tailor it with the younger one’s affinity for puns. I’d dig up the small one’s inner drive and pad through the dead of night to steal some chutzpah from my first-born. I’d secure a little motivation from here and a little natural charm from there. Grab my darning needle and voila!
I’d take the genome that apparently dictates whether or not you remember to flush the toilet and mix it with the ability to make the bed without daily reminders. The bit that drives one to brush his teeth without threats glued to the other’s ability to remember which day of a nine-day cycle it is at the drop of a hat.
I’d lay out one’s happy go-lucky nature and combine it with the other one’s leadership qualities. One’s patience with the other’s determination.
Oh, what a kid I could make if I could pick all the best and get rid of the rest.
But of course, I can’t. And honestly, where would the fun in that be? And plus, who am I kidding. I don’t have a darning needle.
So I’ll keep harassing the thirteen year-old to brush his teeth because he also never gets angry and I’ll keep calmly explaining to the ten year-old why he can’t spend his life in disgusting pajamas because he also does his homework in Greek, just for the fun of it, and I’ll overlook the last-minuteness of the older one because he’s a stellar friend and pretend I don’t mind the way the younger one whines sometimes because his heart is so big.
No cut and paste stitch together, lightning bolt perfect kid over here.
If I had a daughter, I would want her to be little like Emma Gonzalez.
Or perhaps a lot like her.
There are a hundred reasons. There is her buzz cut for starters. As a woman who used to shave her head I promise you, bringing a set of clippers to your scalp is a statement, bold as brass.
There is her voice, honest and loud and cracked through with emotion. She is passionate and raw and real and as ragged around the edges as the shredded jeans she sports.
But as I watched her stand in silence for the better part of six minutes, shutting her eyes against what must have been a groundswell of emotion from both within and without, what struck me — or more accurately smacked me around the head with a 2 x 4 — was the ferocity with which she embraces her tears.
Emma Gonzalez keeps allowing us a window into her heart, and by doing so, she is normalizing the act of crying. By refusing to hide her anger and rage and grief but instead allowing us a front row seat to those tears, she is telling us it is ok.
It is ok to cry.
Because really, we should all be weeping.
We teach our American boys to man up, be strong, grow a pair. We teach those sons to suppress and repress and deny. We teach them to show emotion is shameful and weak. We decry boys and men who do show emotion as pussies, as feminine, as damaged and less than.
Crying is for girls, our boys are told. Which has somehow unmistakably become synonymous with weakness.
We teach our sons that boys don’t cry. We teach them that real men do not feel.
Except that boys do cry. And men do feel.
Why? Because they are human, and this is what humans do. We feel. That ability along with opposable thumbs, that’s all that’s really separating us from our red-assed, chest-thumping ancestors.
You can’t keep suppressing something as natural as emotion. You know what happens? All of those pent-up feelings explode outward. In a fist connecting with a cheekbone, or a crowbar to a window, or a spray of bullets.
It’s a fucked-up crazy upside-down world when we demonize tears and normalize rage.
Humans feel. We cry. Out of sadness or fear or pain or rage or frustration, of joy or happiness or pleasure. Crying is nothing if not a reboot for the soul.
We should all be weeping.
Yet we keep encouraging our boys not to. And by default, our girls. Because as women we know firsthand that a show of emotion will be held against us, used against us, a black mark against our souls when it is time to have our hearts weighed and measured.
And then here comes Emma Gonzalez and her tears.
Perhaps if we encouraged more crying things would be different. We might be sopping up tears, but perhaps we wouldn’t be cleaning up so much blood from classroom floors.
Maybe if we encouraged more weeping, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time figuring out why all that pent-up emotion with nowhere to go then explodes like an active volcano, taking the rest of us with it in its red-hot wake.
I spent a long time after the last US election in a pit of fiery rage. It took me a long time to understand that rage was a finger in the dike, holding my grief inside. I knew if I let that grief out, it would sweep me away. It would knock me under and drag me out in its undertow and spin me until I didn’t know which way was up and which down.
I was terrified of showing my vulnerability. I was terrified because I knew it would be held against me. It would be seen as a weakness, held over my head like a Damoclean sword.
It took me even longer to understand that vulnerability, far from being a weakness, is one of a woman’s most powerful strengths. Because it allows me to feel. And to grow and learn and manage and channel and adapt and change and live.
We should all be weeping. At the world we’re fucking up. At the blood stained floors and the hate-fueled mess we are creating. We should be weeping with the mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters, over the children who are washing up dead on foreign beaches, with the brothers and sisters who are being shot and killed for nothing more than being black at the wrong time, with the people across a globe being bombed into oblivion.
We should all be weeping.
Yes, if I had a daughter, I would want her to be a little and a lot like Emma Gonzalez.
But I do not have a daughter. I have sons. But I have sons who will grow up unafraid to express emotion. Who will be encouraged to cry and fear and feel. Sons who will watch me cry and rage and feel. Because how else do we teach our children to embrace their feelings — all of them — sadness and anger and fear and joy — how do we teach them what to do with those emotions if they do not see us experiencing — and surviving them?
Emma Gonzalez’s tear streaked face is a symbol. Not of weakness, but of strength and determination. And yes, of vulnerability.
We should all take a page out of Gonzalez’s book. We should all be weeping.
This post first appeared on Medium. I’d be grateful if you’d give it some love over there.
We’ve all had days when it feels good to unload on someone else: a secret we’ve been carrying, a ball of anxiety knotting its way through our digestive tract, a fear, an embarrassment, a hazy memory of dancing on a table after that shot of tequila…
If we’re lucky, we have a friend or a spouse or a parent who listens. They take on a bit of our worry, making our own burden a little bit lighter. They absorb it.
Like a sponge.
As a mother, I’m an expert sponge. Seriously. As a wife, I’m pretty good too. Actually, I think I’m an all-around decent sponge. There are times though when it feels like my sole job in life is to be a giant sponge. There to sop up excess emotion and tears, to take a little anxiety or unhappiness onto my own shoulders. I shift. I accommodate. I rearrange the already heavy pack on my back so I can add another load like that ass from Buckaroo.
Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. This is what we do for one another, right?
Most of the time I don’t think about it too much. I sop. I absorb. I soak up everyone else’s worries and anxieties like a boss. And usually there’s enough time in between major spills to dry out. But every now and again you’re sopping up one mess after another, absorbing one hurt after another, mopping upset and stress and baking cupcakes and trying to figure out where this new fear of the dark came from and making sure football socks are clean and calling your mom and double checking that your son’s sandwich doesn’t have cheese and because God forbid he have cheese it’s the end of the world and freaking out over the news and–
Basically you’re taking on water from so many directions you get saturated.
There are only so many leaks you can plug. After all, even sponges have their limits. Without time to dry out they disintegrate and fall apart in a big, crumbly mess.
Ideally, there should be a sponge-share agreement, whereby you take turns. Most of the time this works. My husband and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that only one of us is allowed to freak out at any given time. If I am in free fall, it means he needs to be up to bat. And vice-versa. Two parents in meltdown is never a good thing.
But life is life is life and things happen and unpredictability and everything else and sometimes there’s only one sponge left in the cupboard.
When this happens, I recommend a week by yourself in a sunny location to dry out.
Of course all you usually get, if you’re lucky, is five minutes in front of a 200° oven while you stir the casserole you made for dinner. The one you hope has enough in it to shut everyone up for a few minutes.
That is, just enough time to dry out enough to sop up the next mess.
I root for Team USA during the Olympics. I get a little misty-eyed when the flag is raised or I hear the first strains of The Star Spangled Banner. I sigh in delight over rockets red glare on the Fourth of July. I wax poetic about the joy of a cheeseburger and a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. I marvel at the expanse of sea to shining sea.
I’m an American.
But I don’t live in America any more.
I live in Europe now. Europe is not free of violence or discrimination, it’s not a perfect utopia where everyone is sitting cross-legged in a circle strumming Kumbayah. It’s not without problems or worries. It’s not even free of guns.
But it is a place without everyday gun violence, without mall rampages and movie theatre massacres. And without school shootings. And while we’re here, let’s stop mincing words, without the frighteningly regular slaughter of innocents.
My teenager gets on his bike every morning and cycles to school. I worry that some distracted driver will clip him. I worry he’ll be distracted and do something stupid. Sometimes I worry that he’ll ride without a helmet, despite my insistence.
I don’t worry about identifying his bullet-ridden body in a cold morgue because someone shot up his school.
I worry my fourth-grader will feel lonely on the playground. I worry he’ll get anxious about a test. I worry that he will come home with head lice because head lice is a pain in the ass.
I don’t worry about him hiding in a corner of his classroom while someone with an assault rifle is roaming the hallway looking for unlocked doors.
I go to parent teacher conferences. I worry that my kids will fall through the cracks because, truth be told, they’re easy kids to teach and sometimes teachers spend a disproportionate amount of their time with kids who have more challenging needs. I worry that they’re not drilling them in their times tables enough, because man, I knew those things backward and forward.
I do not worry about looking those teachers in the eye and trying to figure out if they would take a bullet for my kids.
I worry now that my teen has more independence he’ll make the right choices.
I never worry about those choices including walking into a store and buying a gun.
I worry my sons spend too much time on their computers, their iPads, their phones.
I do not worry when they scamper off to see the latest Marvel movie on the big screen that someone is going to come in and shoot up the theatre.
I worry they might give in to peer pressure.
I don’t worry about them going to other people’s homes where there may be unsecured, loaded weapons.
I worry about drugs. I worry about unprotected sex. I worry my soon to be high schooler isn’t working to his full potential and it might hurt his chances when he applies to college.
I never worry he’s going to get hold of an AR-15 and shoot up his school.
We all live in uncertain times. I sometimes worry about planes being blown out of the sky and trucks plowing into pedestrians.
I don’t worry about my kids living in a state of perpetual lock-down preparation. I don’t worry about whether or not their teacher is getting through to them how to be quiet in an active shooter situation. I don’t worry about their teachers carrying guns.
I’m an American who is sitting somewhere else, wondering if she can ever go home, because though I may bleed red, white, and blue, I am not sure I can stomach the idea of worrying about my children bleeding out on a classroom floor for someone else’s interpretation of a two hundred year old sentence.
I know I’m not the only one in this situation. I talk to dozens of other Americans, mostly mothers, some fathers, who find themselves navigating these same complex feelings. I’m both grateful that I can send my children to school free of these worries, and pounded by guilt that so many people I love have to someone manage them everyday.
I know there are others. So, so many others. I know I’m not the only American abroad who feels this way:
I’m an American who is grateful that right now I do not live in America.
And that breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces.
This original version of this article first appeared on Medium, a new platform for me. If you like it, head on over to the original (linked right above ↑) and ‘clap’ for it. Thx.