We Should All Be Weeping

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.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

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.

d

Advertisements

One Super Girl at a Time

The other day a friend stopped by with her two daughters in tow, all bright smiles and freckle-faced freshness. Her older girl, bordering on middle school, smiled and gave me a sticker which, I was told, she’d been keeping for me because she thought I’d like it.

Sweet, right?

Look, I scream and use a lot of four letter words. I rage and sometimes but not always fantasize about pulling lightening crackling down from the sky. Some days I put on my pointy witch hat and sweep away the bullshit. But when it comes to kids, I’m kind of a marshmallow, so of course I was touched.

I put it on my laptop, which is home to a selection of sticky slogans, and the more I thought about it, the sappier I got–and not just because I’m probably going to get one of those freak, out-of-nowhere periods that seem to happen when you’re in your late 40s.

I got a little misty because it’s working.

What I do, the way I live my life, the attention I pay to detail, what I speak about, how I talk to girls and boys, the screaming, the shouting, the listening, all of it. It’s working. Because here was this bordering on middle-school girl, half-way down the path to young woman, a girl who is going to, probably sooner rather than later, face the inevitable: comments about her body, catcalls from men who should know and act better, someone, somewhere dropping a comment about her being just a girl–or crying like one, throwing like one, acting like one–as if any of those are inherently bad. She is a girl, which means she’ll pick up on clues from folks who think she’s not worth as much as a boy. She’ll overhear a conversation between boys she knows talking smack about another girl’s body. She’ll overhear a conversation between girls she knows doing the same.

And along comes a sticker, and I thought that seed is planted. It’s buried now, deep down. And it will take root and it will blossom.

Because you see, now she knows she doesn’t need Superman. She doesn’t need Supergirl. Because she is her own super-girl.

I nearly whooped with joy.

My own boys know what I’m like and what’s important to me. But they’re mine. I’m the chief baker and molder of their environment cookie dough. I have been since they were cooing and ga-ga-ing in their Baby Einstein Exersaucer and every day since. But other people’s kids? It’s a pretty great feeling to know that a tweenage girl could see an image, an image evoking female strength and independence, and think of me.

Sweet, right? And I don’t mean in the sugar and spice sense there, I mean in the long drawn out sweeeeeetttt sense.

I think–and hope!– that through these pages, through my actions, my love and respect for my sons is evident. But there are times when I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters, not so much to fill a gap in my heart, but to get a pulse on today’s girls and what they are like. Once I had a conversation with two friends about the things I miss out on being the mother of  only sons.

“I’ll never get to share that first period moment!” I lamented.

They thought I was crazy, but I kind of meant it. Let’s face it, the first nocturnal emission just doesn’t seem to have the same rite of passage feel about it. And to be honest, it’s not something they’ll likely tell me, although if they do, perhaps we’ll share a ritual passing over of the tissue box, who knows.

So my friends message me when a daughter does something they think I will like or find amusing or just kick-ass.

C called out her tennis coach when the medal she got only featured a boy;
R does a fist pump and says “Smash the Patriarchy” when I see her;
E regularly tells boys they aren’t allowed to touch her without her permission;
Another R writes essays and challenges gender stereotypes in her high school hallways; and
S saw a sticker of Supergirl rescuing Superman and thought of me.

These girls are being raised by strong women. Whenever I get a text or a message–or a sticker–I think, if I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like yours, or yours, or yours. All of them different, but strong in their own ways. All of them Super girls.

And I feel, just for a moment, just for a split second, like I got to play some tiny part in that, like I get to change the world just a little bit.

One super girl at a time.

The Body (A Love Letter)

597896d44805c7a7ec065a52b2c24e5fWhat is the difficulty in stripping layers of cloth and standing bared in front of my own reflection? It should be easier to face a reflection in the mirror than it is to face the secrets of a soul; easier to bare a breast, a hip, an ankle than to see unmasked the wings and horns of a self.

And yet…

and yet…

and yet it almost never is.

Even after all this time and thought and searching and acceptance and writing I maintain a complex relationship with my own body. This husk of muscle and flesh and spark and firework, this weight of tendon and sinew and bone and passion. This body.

We circle each other warily. Often we are at war, waging battles against one another, laying siege. At times we live under the flag of an uneasy truce. But the peace is always tenuous. There is always a new front to be claimed, another battle on the horizon.

This body.

These legs. These crepe-skinned knees and flesh-heavy thighs. These legs which have carried me through four and a half decades, which have run me up mountains I thought too high to climb, which have scaled heights I thought impossible from where I stood looking up.

These arms. My God, these arms. These arms which are baggy and saggy and on their way to  bat-winged. These arms which have cradled and rocked countless babies to sleep, protecting and soothing. These arms which have carried the weight of what is needed to feed my family, which have wrapped around generations, pulling grief close, pulling joy closer.

These hands. Christ, these hands which have woven the threads of love and passion and family together into a tapestry of life. These fingers which fly clacking over keys and sometimes seem to know what I need to say before my own mind recognizes it.

This womb. This womb, that hollow source of heartache. This womb which eventually harbored and nurtured two little lives, which had the strength to push those lives into this world to stand on their own, apart.

These breasts. No longer high and mighty, these forlorn breasts. These breasts which nourished two sons; and these hips, always too wide, curved and rounded leftovers of my mother’s body which expanded to accommodate and grow new human beings.

This spine. This spine now just starting to lean. This spine which has stood upright in the face of change, of heartache, of sorrow and grief. This backbone which has borne whatever I have heaped upon it without breaking, without complaint or crack.4adc46e2384f59258e0c836bd3dd5e76

This body. This body which has starved itself and run itself ragged trying to fit a tortured and distorted ideal of its own making. This body, a safe haven for a lover to harbor in, warmth and depth in which to burrow. A lap in which to snuggle, flesh soft enough to absorb the sharpness around it.

This body which despite all of this still only loves itself part of the time.

This heart. This heart which bears the scars of breaking, which has been pieced back together and still beats in time with a love ferocious and fearless. This heart which still has not completely learned to love what has loved me back so fiercely all this time.

This body.