To My Son, Who is Turning Thirteen

Here we are, on the verge of big, bad teenagerdom.

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Not all the time, and not even about the big, bad things, but nevertheless, she persisted worrying. Have I done enough? Have I reminded you to please and thank you enough? Taught you how to tell a joke or to always deal cards to the left? Have I given you the confidence to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing?

Most of the time I worry because I feel like I’m running out of time.

There are days when it seems you’ve already got one foot out of the door. I have to remind myself you’ve always had one foot out of the door, from the moment you were born. You were never mine, not really. You’ve always been your own. The universe merely placed you in my care for this dance, to make sure when you’re ready, you step through with both feet, confident and secure.

But that door? It will always open to you.

When you were an infant, swaddled like a baby burrito, you’d look up at me and I felt a million things surge through my blood all at once, like wildfire raging through my veins. Thirteen years later your eyes are nearly level with my own, but my blood still sings that same fiery song.

Those times you think I’m staring at you, looking for something to criticize? I’m really looking to see if the angle of your jaw has sharpened between dinner and breakfast.

When you catch me standing outside your door, it’s not to simply to tell you to pick your clothes up off the floor, it’s also to hear if the timber of your voice has begun to deepen.

I’m terrified I’m going to miss something, afraid one day I’ll look at you and that tiny boy, the one we fought so hard to bring into the world, is going to be impossible to recognize in the face and body of the young man you’re becoming.

In case I don’t tell you enough, I am proud of you, the way you treat everyone with kindness, the ease with which you saunter through life, your even-temper. Do you remember the night we sat around the dinner table and asked, who is the least likely to lose their temper? Without hesitation, we all pointed to you.

Keep your even temper. It will be your greatest gift in life, the ability to take a situation and diffuse it, to find the funny, or the good, the silver lining.

You are so unbelievably fortunate. You have so much opportunity at times it’s almost embarrassing. Use it. Use it to speak out for those who have less. Don’t ever take it for granted or feel like the world owes you more than what you’ve already been bestowed, because those invisible gifts you’ve been born into–the color of your skin, your sex, the opportunities we’ve been able to give to you? Those things are not due to you. You do not deserve them more than someone else. So use them. Stand up for those who walk through life with less ease, with less opportunity, with less help. Be aware of your privileges and of how you can use them for good.

Find something you want to be great at. It doesn’t matter if you are great at it, but it’s important to have something to work at, to dream about. Don’t take the easy way out. Get better. Be better.

Take time to settle into your mold. You don’t have to know who you are or what you want to do with your life. You just need to live your best life. Not everyday, no one lives their best life everyday. If someone tells you that, ignore them. If you’re batting one for ten you’re doing ok. Some days life hurts. Some days it’s tough. Some days it sucks donkey balls. It will get better. Don’t think it won’t get better.

No matter how many eye-rolls or ‘whatever’s, how many door slams or a thousand other stereotypes I’m remembering from The Breakfast Club and my own teenage years, we will be here. Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t need us. That’s good. That means we’ve done our job. We’ll be here anyway.

You’re going to think we’re dumb and out of touch. You’re going to think you know better. You’re going to think every sneaky trick you come up with to fool us hasn’t been tried before. You’re wrong on all counts.

You won’t believe me. I know. I didn’t either.

We’re going to argue. I’m going to be wrong. You’re going to be wrong. If it’s truly important, stand up for yourself. But choose your hills wisely. Make sure it’s a hill you’re willing to die on before you dig in.

I’m going to embarrass you. Mostly accidentally but sometimes on purpose.

You’ll want to do things we don’t think you’re ready for. Sometimes we’ll screw it up. Sometimes we’ll make shitty decisions. But even when we do, try to remember it’s coming from a place of love. You won’t believe that either, but it’s true.

The world is out there waiting. There’s a lot of shit going down, a lot of bad stuff. But so much good stuff too. Don’t let the scary stuff stop you from experiencing the good. Don’t let the good stuff stop you from trying to change the bad.

Don’t let anyone else define you. If someone tells you that you have to be or do something? If they want to change you or set conditions on their love for you? Run the other way. Fast.

Life is going to hurt. Life is going to sing. It’s going to flutter and fly and sink and sometimes you’ll feel like you are drowning in your own breath. That is life. All of it put together is what makes it worth living.

Most of all I want you to know it will never be you vs. the world. We are tied together, you and me. For nine months your heartbeat tangled with mine until it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began. Yours dances to a different tempo now, but mine? Mine will always skip a beat here and there, making sure there is a space for yours to return to when you need it.

Love,
Mom

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Memory Keepers

My kids, like most, have memories like a steel trap.

Remember that time you promised us ice cream and then we didn’t get any?
You mean the time your brother was running 104 temperature and we were trying to get him to the hospital, that time???
I dunno, maybe. But you still owe us an ice cream!

But the memories they keep, the ones that get caught in their young traps? They tend to be highly selective.

For instance, they don’t remember the seven hundred and sixty-two times I asked them to get their socks on, They only remember when I screamed at them to get their f**king socks on right this goddamn minute.

See? Selective memories.

Your kids have them too. They won’t remember all the mushy- gushy kisses, they’ll remember–and tell everyone who will listen– about the time you accidentally elbowed them on your way to the toilet to barf.

They won’t remember all the times you told them you loved them, but you can be damn sure they’ll remember the one time you threatened to sell them on eBay.

They won’t remember the mom magic that helps you keep track of who likes hard-boiled eggs and who likes scrambled, who likes their pasta with pesto and who prefers it with butter, who likes their carrots peeled and who doesn’t. What will they remember? The one time you put cucumber in the lunch box of the kid who doesn’t like cucumber as if you were trying.to.poison.him.

They won’t remember all the times you stayed up all night, not to get lucky, but to obsessively check their foreheads. They’ll remember the one time you were out to dinner and they threw up on the babysitter.

Remember that time, Mom? The time when you were out and I got sick all over the babysitter? Remember??

They won’t remember the 683, 909 calm and rational explanations, but they’ll remember the one time you lost your shit and threw a cup across the room.

They won’t remember the times you got up early to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on a school day. They’ll only remember the time you bought the bread with the seeds. You know. The one they hate.

No remembrance of time past, the hours spent pushing swings, spotting their little bodies climbing up the slide, zooming cars around on the floor. Nope. They will remember all the times they were so bored, Mom! 

They won’t remember the 10,000 meals you cooked, the ones they gobbled up. What will they remember? The ones they hated.

Out of 5,493 loads of laundry, the only one they’ll remember is the one when you shrank their hoodie in the dryer.

They won’t remember the times you pretended to be interested in play by play Pokemon or Minecraft stories. They’ll remember the time you shushed them because they were about to announce who was eliminated on Master Chef.

They won’t remember the scenery on the way to the National Park, or the $3,498 you spent on admissions. They’ll remember the way the ketchup at Burger King squirted on the table.

They won’t remember the 7,930 toys you bought them over the course of a lifetime, the 15,000 bits of Lego, the Barbie shoes you glued back together. They’ll fixate on the Barbie Dream House they never got.

Oh wait, that was me…

They won’t remember the blood, the sweat, or the tears. But the yelling, the screaming, the swears? It’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of therapy, of memoir, of blogs.

It’s all good. I may not remember why I opened the fridge, or what I came into the room to get, but all this stuff? Stored for life..or at least until I have grandkids on my side.

 

Do We Still Need Buffy?

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered. A blond assassin of the undead, an older white guy who wasn’t in charge, crushes, bullying, inter-species romance. Buffy had it all. Two decades on, the show is still a go-to reference when you find yourself looking around at the intersection of feminism and pop culture.

Today’s young girls, a full generation behind the vampire slayer’s fans, have grown up in a post-Buffy world. A world in which the Hell Mouth is sealed and all the demons are safely tucked away in their graves.

So twenty years on, do we still need Buffy?

I was an adult when the series premiered back in 1997, well past the age of breakouts and quarterback crushes, yet I loved it from the start. It was clever and bitingly funny. Many of the issues tackled were problems which follow you from the hell of high school hallways right into the abyss of adulthood. Plus, you know, Angel was a good looking guy. And if nothing else, I’m a sucker for a slayer-vampire Romeo and Juliet story arc.

The show blew a Buffy shaped hole in pop culture and through that opening, a slew of female protagonists marched. Xena, Katniss, Tris, Rey, Jin. Today’s girls have grown up never questioning strong female protagonists–slayers of the undead, leaders of rebellions, warrior princesses. Today’s girls are living in a post-Buffy bubble.

But that bubble? It’s in a world which is most decidedly not post-Buffy.

Girls may take strong female leads for granted nowadays. Princesses who insist upon saving themselves. Star Wars heroines who tell the guy to let go of her hand. Teenagers like Buffy and Katniss who are doing the saving, the sacrifice, and still finding time to fall in love on the side. A steady diet of girl power, fed to them by mothers who have often witnessed the double standards women face in the world themselves and are determined to show their daughters something different, and by fathers who are woke enough to realize how much representation matters.

But I worry that some of these young women, many of whom have yet to face workplace discrimination, the unfair burden that parenthood places on one parent, the systematic drip-drip of micro-aggressions that eventually wear a groove in your soul–those young women may think they are living in a world in which all the problems of sexism have already been slayed with a sharpened stake and biting wit. A world in which the Hell Mouth stays sealed and life is sunny in Sunny Dale once again.

But just because there was a Buffy doesn’t mean all the monsters are gone. All those nasties? They are still sulking around just under the surface. The vampires? It’s things like harassment, all the indignities which can suck the life out of many working women, everything from being overlooked for promotions, to being groped at the water cooler, to being talked over and interrupted. The demons? There’s the motherhood penalty, in which even women who aren’t mothers often make less money than their male peers, regardless of the male’s parenthood status. The Gentlemen? Well, several of them occupy the current White House administration. The ghouls and devils and masters? Double standards, double binds, the lock-step of a patriarchal system.

A sharp stick is only going to go so far. A biting wit is great for Facebook, but it’s not going to do much to slay years of ingrained attitude. We still need Buffy, or the idea of her anyway. We still need someone to show us how to slay the monsters with a roundhouse kick and a chair leg, how to be vulnerable but not allow that vulnerability to get in the way of taking action when action is needed. What we really need is a whole generation of Buffys. Forget the ‘into every generation a slayer is born’ stuff. Right now, the Hell Mouth is yawning and the Capitol from the Hunger Games is staring up at us.

I don’t know what’s coming, but I can tell you that in my many years, I’ve never seen so much focus on women, women’s lives, and women’s issues as I have in the last year. I’ve never seen the coordinated resistance, the anger and organization, the push back–from women–that I’m seeing now. And if something big is in the air, a seismic cultural shift, we’re going to need all the Buffys we can get.

The show may have ended thirteen years ago, but the need for a slayer never really goes away. Not really.

So, do we still need Buffy?

Hell Mouth yeah.

 

Pssst…Millennials–Gen X Here. Can We Have a Word?

10e0ca10f66a0b8442b7f31e3a68ebc7Dear Millennials,

I keep reading about your disillusionment with the political process, about your lack of enthusiasm for the candidates you have to choose from.

I get it.

Try, if you will, to cast you mind back to the 80s. We were a generation that came of age at the height of the AIDS/HIV crisis. We were living under a thinly veiled threat of nuclear fallout. The Berlin Wall was still standing. Nancy Regan was consulting her astrologist and pleading with us to “JUST SAY NO!”

1988 was the first year I was eligible to vote. My choices for president? George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. I can already hear you asking, Michael Who-what-is?? Yeah, I wasn’t very excited either. Neither was the rest of the country. Bush won handily.

I thought the whole country was going to hell during the first Bush administration. I worried the draft would be reinstated, I worried my male friends would be shipped off to the Middle East to fight a war none of us believed in. I was convinced of a lot of things.

Many of us were disgusted with the government. We protested the war. We marched on Washington for reproductive rights. We marched in NYC to take back the night.

It didn’t do any good. No one was listening. And so we started to distrust the system. The same way the flower children started to distrust the system during Vietnam. The same way some of you do now.

I get it.

For all our quaint John Hughes movies and bad hairstyles, all our James Spader rich boy sneering, we were you once upon thirty years ago. Faced with political choices that fell flat. Trust me. It was really hard get excited about Dukakis.

polbhem1fed-bldg-sit-in-1991

Gen X wasn’t all Duran Duran and parachute pants. There was a momentum. There were movements. LGBTQ rights were on the horizon, women in shoulder pads were, if not busting into boardrooms, then knocking at the door. There was fire and crackle and sizzle. Rage at the fuddy-duddy process. Demands for faster progress.

So what happened? In the most boring predictable of clichés, we grew up. The economy boomed. We fell in love. Got jobs. September 11 came along and upended the way we viewed the world. Kids were born, parents died. We got divorced, remarried. Lost jobs. Battled cancer. You know, life.

Life happened. And on that spectrum of life you realize things aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem.

I read about the fire in your belly paired with a sense of  helplessness, the feeling no one is listening to your (mostly spot-on, legitimate) demands. Here’s the thing: That feeling’s not new. I think the folks who write these articles forget what it’s like to be in that 18-25 year-old age bracket. Or perhaps they just haven’t left the bracket yet themselves.

But, damn you guys! You have ushered in an era where it is not only easier for LGBTQ youth to come out, but one which supports them, both socially and legally. Don’t think that’s big deal? Go check out those John Hughes movies Generation X are so fond of. There aren’t any gay characters in them. That is a seismic cultural shift. You showed the country there was room in The Breakfast Club for the “gay one” as well.

You did that.

You live in a world where you don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that a woman is on the top of the Presidential ticket. The year some of you were born I sat in stunned silence as Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And then watched as Congress approved him for the Supreme Court of the United States anyway. Yeah, we’ve still got a long way to go on that one, but we need your help.

Your detractors call you lazy, entitled, apathetic. I think you haven’t had time to live yet.

Life is experience and experience is nuance. You get older and you live longer and you realize, quite clearly, there are terrible things out there in the world. As a young adult there is love. There is war. There is right. There is wrong. There are clear lines in the sand. And that is as it should be. You need that clarity, that focus. If at eighteen you realized how many different ways you could be truly fucked, you’d never get out of bed. We’d lose an entire generation.

You may look at us, slightly pudgy and graying, comfortable shoes reminiscing about our youth and think the fire’s gone out. But the thing about fire is that if you can’t control it, it burns the whole place down, the good with the bad. The trick is learning how to tame the flames enough to make them useful.

I guess what I am saying is don’t give up. You have the elasticity to bounce back. We may be living life with our slightly less radical and slightly more centrist ideas, with our boring policy talk, doing things the only way we know how. But you? You have the opportunity to live the lives never offered us. Use that gift to tame the flames in a way to make them work for you.

act-up-phila-on-broad-stI know you won’t listen. I know because I wouldn’t have when I was eighteen, nineteen. I would have looked at the middle-aged person trying to give me advice as a relic of the past. A pudgy fossil on their way to Shady Pines.

I’ll say it anyway. Don’t throw a bucket of cold water on your fire because it’s not burning in the direction you hoped.

You can’t fake experience. You have to live it. So sure, we may seem stodgy and middle-aged now. It may look like we sold out, became complacent, gave up. But really we’re just getting ready to pass the baton.

It’s up to you to run with it. Don’t sit down on the track before you even start.

Love,
Generation X