How Lucky We Are To Be Alive Right Now

Here we are, the ass-end of another year. I sat down yesterday to write about Salome and her veils.

Then I re-read 2016’s year-end post. Apparently I had the same idea last year.

Always ahead of myself, it would seem. And forever forgetting it.

I expected I would endeth the year in much the same way as I beganeth, but….I didn’t.

Oh, I am still angry, that much is true, but I am not blinded by my rage. I can see around my anger now, see through it. I’ve spent the last twelve months honing it and sharpening it. It is an asset I carry around with me, at all times. A talisman, an amulet I wear around my neck. A sharpened stick a la BtVS to slay demons, both within and without.

It seems strange to look backward at this year and think, how lucky we are to be alive right now, but it’s the truth. I feel more alive than I have for a long time. Sure, much of that prickly pins and needles feeling stems from sheer terror and jaw-dropping incredulity, and it is also true that in my oh-so cushioned life as a migrant I do not fear for my day-to-day existence. The shit-storm clouds gathering over the United States affect my sensibilities and my ideals, but they do not affect my day-to-day life. My whiteness, my bank account, my education levels and my opportunities protect me from the worst of it. For that I am both grateful, humbled, and very, very aware.

Geographically, I’m hobbled from putting my body in the line of fire. Congressionally I vote in one of the bluest states in the country. So I’ve spent the last year turning inward rather than outward, listening and reading, essays on race, on gender. I’ve spent the last year sitting in the messy, pants staining muck of my own discomfort, challenging myself to rise above it. Failing…and succeeding.

I am a better person for it.

So how lucky I am to be alive at a time when black American activists, writers and artists, leaders and voices are finally garnering the recognition they’ve always been due. How lucky I am to be alive at a time when all of that is there for the taking. My table runneth over with choice.

For women, 2017 was a year of validation. All the churning, gut-tingling knowledge which was systematically denied and suppressed and second-guessed finally blew the world apart in a hashtag. I won’t lie. The taste of public vindication is sweet. If 2016 was the year Salome’s last veil dropped, 2017 was the year women burned that fucker like so many bras.

As painful as it is to see stories spill out like steam rising from sewer grates, it is glorious as well. I rode out the back nine of 2017 on a wave of sisterhood unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Will this time be different? I hope so. We have almost reached critical mass, the moment when enough women are in leadership roles to affect real, lasting change. We are at the damn barricades. We just need to topple them.

How lucky I feel to be alive in a world which is finally acknowledging women, our experiences, valuing our contributions not just as a substitute for men, but for ourselves. A world where we are being looked to and asked to lead.

In 2017 I  mourned the loss of a Clinton presidency. I may have been sorely disappointed, it’s true. But I will never know. What I do know is that a Trump presidency has issued in a political, social, and economic awareness unprecedented in my recollection. The safeguards many Americans assumed would protect them are failing–in some instances, rather spectacularly. For many Americans (raising hand), 2017 was the year we stopped taking democracy for granted. Stopped assuming it was something which we, as heirs to democracy with a capital “D” were entitled to. The reality of course is that the United States of America, just like any other country, must work to retain the ideals and principles it was based on.

As an American living abroad, I get a good glimpse into how those outside the US view America. If I could sum it up in one phrase it would be this: “fun, but arrogant as hell”.

May 2018 be the year more Americans check their global arrogance at the door.

2017 was the year my family started seriously contemplating a move back to the US. Each day I question whether it is an advisable one. Tuesdays it may be a yes, but by Wednesday morning, I’ve reversed my decision. But that is for another day’s discussion.

There were lowlights: a seemingly evergreen sadness at the never-ending news cycle of violence and death. Mass shootings in the United States, trucks wielded as weapons, suicide bombings that barely register in the headlines because they’re across the world. There were personal lowlights as well. Standing in my kitchen sobbing as I struggled to reconcile the vulnerability I felt with the fear of revealing it, the sheer cliff-face ahead of me raising two young boys, heirs to the very patriarchy I thought I’d be dismantling. Failure to secure a publisher for my novel, All the Spaces In Between. 

Art by Rebecca Fish Ewan

There were highlights, like reading 1001 nights to an audience of writers at my first writing conference. It’s been a long time since I did something with only myself in mind, which benefitted only me. It was powerful, uplifting, and tremendously rewarding. Having strangers ask for a hug because your words affected them is a powerful and humbling experience.

There was Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. There were the moments my sons described me as a feminist writer to their own friends and teachers. There was a trip to Washington DC, in which I literally stood and touched the stone edifice of so many buildings and felt their solidity ground me.

And of course, there was Hamilton, the soundtrack of the second half of my year. How lucky we are to be alive right now, indeed.

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So here I am, looking ahead at my pile of new notebooks, of schedulers and calendars. At organizers and color-coded things. I know most of them will still be sitting there come December 2018, filled with the ragged edges of torn out shopping lists and scribbled notes about bills to pay. But the possibility they contain excites me nevertheless. I will persist.

I’m about a third of the way through novel #2, young adult speculative fiction. I hope in 2018 I’m three thirds of the way through it.

I will continue to write about women, to speak out about women, to fight for women. My words are slowly reaching more people. Bust Magazine reached out to me and has published a few of my essays. A fellow writer and editor asked me to pen a craft essay, which I used to highlight how I use my sex to enhance my writing, not hinder it. A parenting site reached out to interview me about raising feminist boys. As I joked to my husband, if I keep going at this rate, in 30 years I’ll be famous.

I am solid, finally grasping on to that quivering mass of rage-woman. I can actually grab a handful now. Actually much more than a handful, but again, I need to save something to write about next year, don’t I?

I know who I am. In fact, I’ve never been more sure of who I am.

How lucky we are to be alive right now, eh?

Bring it on, 2018.

 

 

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A Decade in the Trenches: 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a Parent

family-blowing-out-candles-1950sNot that long ago, we celebrated my son’s tenth birthday. A milestone for him and another notch on the parenting belt for me. You have to trust me when I say there were days when I didn’t think either one of us would make it here. There was the dramatic, traumatic delivery and subsequent two weeks spent in the NICU. There were the endless months when he rose before the sun. There were fights over food, struggles over sleep and very much ado about what turns out to be nothing. If I have learned anything at all in my full decade of parenting, it is this:

You never know as much as you think you know.

That said, in ten years I have learned. I’ve learned a lot, in fact.  I’ve gone from chasing my son around the playground with a half eaten hot dog to trusting that he will in fact, not starve. I’ve gone from micro-managing his every waking moment to realizing that the only way he’s going to grow up is to actually experience things, not just hear about them.

I have learned the things you assume are going to be the game changers—the weaning, the potty training, the arrival of a sibling–usually aren’t. It’s the unexpected dark horse that throws you for a loop: like socks. I can’t’ tell you the fights we have about in my house that revolve around socks. In fact I have a whole blog post devoted to socks post planned for the near future.

Are you sure we've got everything?
Are you sure we’ve got everything?

I’ve learned you don’t need to pack everything and the kitchen sink when you are going on vacation (or to the beach, or out to dinner). Chances are that unless you’re backpacking through Turkmenistan, you’ll be able to find diapers. I can’t tell you how many packets of oatmeal I packed in my suitcase, how many extra diapers I crammed into my carry on, convinced I would never be able to find the right brand or the exact duplicate and more importantly….that my child would care.

I’ve learned there are always going to be other people who judge the way you choose to parent, whether it is an issue over feeding or sleeping or television or junk food or simply the number of children you chose to have. I wish I could say I’ve never judged anyone else, but of course I have–let she who has not judged cast the first stone–but I have learned that the only thing that matters is that I do right by MY kids. What is right for someone else’s child may not be right for mine, and vice-versa.

I’ve learned that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have….the facts of life with kids. As much as we like to look at childhood through rose-colored glasses, the fact is, growing up is HARD. There are times when it SUCKS for both you and them. Maybe every now and again you have a day where you feel like Charlie Bucket after he’s won the golden ticket, but in between are a lot–tons and more and another dozen–of days that are just…days.

mcdonaldsI’ve learned all those evils you think you are protecting your kids from–sugar, soda, McDonald’s, television, video games, non-organic bananas–those are the very things your kid makes a beeline for when they are out of your sight. Well, maybe not the bananas, but I’ve seen my own kid make a madcap dash for the Coca-Cola stash when he thinks I’m not looking. So instead we try to teach balance. Not an easy lesson, but hopefully a more fruitful one, even if it isn’t always organically fruitful.

I’ve learned that boys are different from girls. Since I don’t have girls myself, I can only confirm this by noting that my own kids are nothing like me. But even the parents I know who do have mixed sex families will tell you they’re different. And that’s ok. It’s ok for girls and boys to be different and to like different things. What is not okay is preferring one over the other, parenting by stereotype (oh, there I go judging again), or assuming all girls are one way and all boys another. Kids are people. They are multi-faceted. Just because they’re under five foot doesn’t mean we should pigeonhole them.

I’ve learned  family time is overrated. I say this about to go into a three-week holiday break at my least favorite time of year. After the last break–the one five minutes ago–when my husband looked at me expectantly that Saturday morning and said, “What shall we do today?” I looked back and said, “You should take the kids out. By yourself.”  Turns out you can put a quantity on quality…

I’ve learned with parenting, it’s all relative. When you have a toddler, you can’t parent a school age child, just the same way that I can’t parent a teenager. I can spout off all I want about what I’m going to do and what I’m not, but it actuality, I won’t know until I get there.

gwtw2

I’ve learned that Scarlet O’Hara is right, tomorrow is another day. No matter how shitty my day has been, and golly I’ve had some doozies, it never seems as bad the next morning. If I had a particularly bad day with one or the other, I used to make it a point to tuck them in and say “Let’s work together to make tomorrow a better day.” I haven’t had to say it in a while–not because we’ve had only great days, but because I think we’ve just come to accept it. When the sun goes down, it takes the day’s crap and crud with it.

I’ve learned that it is both the journey and the destination. Soon enough my kids are going to be functioning adults who are ready to take on the world. That’s the light at the end of the daily tunnel, the end-game, the long con, the final destination. And it’s important. But the paths we take in order to get there, the every days bricks that make up the yellow brick road, that’s all part of it too. You can’t have one without the other.

That’s it in a nutshell really. You can’t have one without the other.

Even after a decade in the trenches, I wouldn’t have it any other way.