Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Common Ground

I'm afraid today.

You are, too.

When I read the news Sunday morning, I thought, "Not again." When I saw the horribly high death toll, I thought, "Oh God. It's getting worse, not better."

You probably thought the same.

I thought of my sweet kids, my husband. My mom, my siblings, my friends, my students. I thought of every single person I love, and before I could stop my brain - my horribly imaginative brain - I imagined every single one of them dead, lying in a pool of blood, a look of horror on their faces.

I know you did, too.

I sent my kids to camp today. I tried to drown out the voice screaming at me to keep them home, to lock the doors, to never go anywhere ever again. I am terrified of our world and what it has become.

You are, too.

I want Washington to pass some damned laws already. To ban assault weapons and large magazine clips. I want universal background checks and penalties for irresponsible gun owners and more gun-free zones.

You want Washington to curb ISIS. You want more good guys with guns out and about to stop the bad guys. You don't want to lose your right to bear arms and protect your family.

I've grown terrified of entitled men who've gone off the deep end and can easily access a firearm and kill a bunch of people.

You're terrified of non-Americans who would do us harm.

I imagine myself in a public space, the sound of gunshots firing. I imagine covering my children, imploring them to play dead.

You imagine yourself in a public space, the sound of gunshots firing, whipping your gun from your holster and stopping the lunatic in his tracks - saving the lives of everyone around you.

My social media is filled with cartoons and rants and articles ridiculing you - calling you stupid, ill-informed, bought and sold by the NRA, bumpkins who value guns over human life. We liberals take our anger from this situation on you. We want to blame you. Sometimes, we want you to pay.

Your social media is filled with cartoons and rants and articles ridiculing me - calling me blind, moronic, willing to give up the right to bear arms the way the Nazi regime required of its people, willing to elect politicians who manipulate and control us and strip us of all our liberties. You conservatives take your anger from this situation out on us. You want to blame us. Sometimes, you want us to pay.

I assume you want everyone in the world to carry a gun, to walk around with an AR-15 and a few semi-automatic handguns. I assume you want teachers to be armed, waiters in restaurants to be armed, to live in a world where a few accidental deaths from dropped guns in public spaces are worth the overall safety and liberty.

You assume I want someone to come into your home and strip you off your guns. To forcibly take them and leave you vulnerable, defenseless. You assume I want hunting outlawed, gun ranges shut down. You assume I want to live in a world where the government and law enforcement alone has access to weapons, where losing a great deal of liberty is worth the safety.

But what if we're wrong?

What if we're more alike than different?

We are, after all, both afraid today. Both terrified for our loved ones, both scared to death of where this country is heading.

What if we could ignore the rhetoric? I'll ignore my side, you ignore yours. What if we just sit down and talk? Talk about our fears, talk about a compromise.

Because, honestly, I don't want to take your guns. I like deer meat, I like the sense of pride I see when my students hunt, I like knowing how safe my best friend feels with her handgun in her house. I remember growing up and going to friends' houses where rifles were locked in gun cabinets. I remember firing a shotgun and feeling a surge of power. I don't feel comfortable living in a country where only those in charge have access to weaponry. I may never want to own a gun myself, but I don't want others to lose their rights.

And maybe I'm wrong, but you probably don't want to live in a world where guns are literally everywhere. Where a toddler could accidentally grab a gun off a table at McDonald's and shoot himself. Where teachers can whip out a handgun when a student has a sassy mouth. Where your angry neighbor can easily kill you and your entire family when you forget to mow your yard for the third week in a row.

No, what we both want is to stop feeling afraid.

This may be silly and idealistic. This is almost certainly never going to work. But I'm tired of being angry at you. I'm tired of blaming you and ridiculing you. I can't control how you view me, but I want to love you. I want to empathize with you. I want to make this country the best place on earth - both for me and for you.

I really hope you'll join me. I really hope we can stop being afraid.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Motherhood is...

Motherhood is eating a blueberry Lara bar in a dark kitchen, pretending not to hear the argument your kids are having. You're eating alone, in a dark kitchen, because if your two year old sees the Lara bar, he'll insist on eating it, even though he's already had a waffle and a bowl of cereal and a cup of milk and a cup of water. And you don't want to share because there's nothing else you can eat right now - at least nothing you can eat without having to cook - and you don't have time to cook because you have to take your daughter to camp.

Motherhood means you can't eat anything else because you're on day 24 of the Whole 30 eating plan. You did this strict plan that eliminates dairy and sugar and other often problematic foods because you got massively addicted to sugar in April. You got addicted to sugar because you were trying to cope with your anxiety that was out of control due to the hectic end of the year teaching middle schoolers, combined with your own offspring's near-summer erratic behavior, by eating a small mountain of Hershey's kisses every day. But sugar makes your emotional state ten times worse, and so the anxiety that was, at first, irritating, took over and made life ridiculous. So then you had to cut sugar out altogether, leaving you standing alone in a dark kitchen, scarfing a Lara bar and drinking luke warm coffee with coconut milk.

Motherhood is counting to three, knowing you don't have time to give your toddler a time out before leaving for camp, but not knowing what else to do to get him to stop running around the house and let you get his shoes on. It is actually trying to hold a wriggling, screaming, 35 pound child down so you can do this, worried about the future therapy bills he'll have to pay to cope with his intimacy issues because now he's afraid of anyone touching him.

Motherhood is feeling pretty damned conflicted about taking your daughter to camp. She begged to go to theater camp, she's been at theater camp before and loved it, but now she's deeply unhappy and letting you know any chance she gets. She's eight and wonderful and sensitive. In fact, she's so sensitive, she's been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, which means that she lives in a world where sights, sounds, and feelings are amplified through an enormous speaker and change is jarring and new people are scary and yet everyone - including you - expects her to act like and adapt like all the other kids around her. The camp is for 8 - 13 year olds, so she's young and surrounded by big kids, and she's nervous, and she's been acting out and the counselors have had to have serious discussions with you every day when you pick her up and you're beginning to feel like a parenting failure. Well, not beginning, because you've felt like a parenting failure at least once a day since your daughter was born eight years ago.

Motherhood is wishing you could tell the counselors about the past few days. That Stella's been under a strain because you haven't been yourself, and that poor kid has a breakdown every single time her mother goes through a tough period (and her mother has plenty of tough periods). That yesterday's meager lunch that Stella ate all of before lunch time and had to beg the kids around her to buy her honey buns and chips from the vending machine was so meager because you're coping with something you don't know how to talk about and so you weren't on top of your parenting game.

Motherhood is preaching that women should be open and honest about their struggles, should take time and space to take care of themselves and not be embarrassed about their bodies. It is also being a hypocrite, because when you have a miscarriage, you don't feel entitled to come forward about it, to share about it, to even grieve it, because your situation is different - your situation is not so bad. Your miscarriage was early - 5.5 weeks. It was so early, you had no clue you were pregnant. You weren't trying to get pregnant, and you and your spouse had long ago decided that two kids were all you could afford, all you could handle emotionally. Because it was early, it was mild in comparison. True, the pain was rough. As close to labor pains as you've felt since you were in actual labor. And true, you found yourself grieving a child that would have been born in February - a child who would have made life complicated, would have taken you out of work in the middle of the school year, would have caused you to have to write 6 weeks of detailed substitute plans (or 12 if you took some unpaid leave), would have made life difficult in your 3 bedroom home where all the bedrooms are spoken for, would have challenged your mental health progress by forcing you to endure sleepless nights once more, this time at age 41. Despite all this, you grieve this child. And then you think of your friends' grief - the ones who fought for their pregnancies, who saw a heartbeat and had a name and planned a whole life around their unborn child, friends who went through what you went through much later, the pain much greater, the hole in their heart much larger. And you feel foolish and selfish and you keep this mostly to yourself, until you cowardly come forward in a blog entry that a handful of people will read and you don't even know why you're doing it because you don't want anyone to make a big deal about it. All you really want is a hug and pint of Ben and Jerry's that would restart your sugar addiction and make you feel like crap, so you drink your unsweetened coffee instead.

Motherhood is packing a teddy bear and a stress ball so your daughter will hopefully have a better day. It is packing a Lunchables, because your daughter begged for it, and you feel guilty because you always swore that you'd never let your kid eat an unhealthy Lunchables, long before you had kids of your own and you were a parenting expert. It is also packing grapes and cherry tomatoes and organic yogurt and Goldfish crackers and a big bottle of water so hopefully your kid won't beg for food today and the counselors will see that you're actually a good parent who cares about her kid. It is doing all this and then reversing all the good by giving your daughter an angry lecture in the car about how ungrateful she is. Telling her how much money you spent on this camp and how frustrated you are because every time she tries something new, the adjustment period is very long and very difficult. It is getting negative and immature because your daughter - whose age is in the single digits - acted negative and immature. It's hugging her and telling her you love her because then you worry that some maniac with a gun will come in and shoot everyone or some child trafficker will find a way to abduct her or that she'll collapse from an undiagnosed heart condition moments after you leave.

Motherhood is noticing that while you were hugging your daughter, your son ran toward the door, is pushing it open, and is poised to run into active traffic just feet away. It is rushing toward him, scared to death and angry and exasperated and exhausted - all at the same time. Once he is safe in your arms, the relief is palpable, but it not simply relief that he is OK, is alive, but also relief that your child did not get himself into a situation where your name and face would be plastered all over the internet, the world shaming your parenting skills, calling for your death, saying you were negligent because you were kissing one kid while another one ran. You are relieved because you don't think you're strong enough to endure that, and you suspect the voices of the trolls would unleash the voices of the demons inside you, and that together they would destroy you in moments flat.

Motherhood is realizing the first week of summer vacation is nearly over and you haven't appreciated your kids enough. It's wondering what kind of mother you are that you're already tired and exhausted from full-time parenting, that you've flopped in front of the couch and watched trashy TV during nap times and off-moments rather than reorganizing the bathroom or writing or exercising or any of the other 100 things you put on your summer to-do list. That you've walked past a sink full of dishes and toys scattered on the floor to lie down next to the dog and stare into space. Yes, you've had a rough week, and yet you don't feel ready to forgive yourself. You expect more of yourself. You find it very hard to be kind to yourself, even though this is another thing you proudly and confidently preach when you're on your feminist soap box.

Motherhood is knowing a great deal of your anxiety and guilt comes from feeling like you don't deserve the kids you have. Their sweetness, their innocence, their humor and wit and affection. They are the most wonderful human beings you've ever met, and you worry that having you as a mother will tarnish their majesty, will mess up what could have been extraordinary, happy lives.

Motherhood is putting this all out here because it helps you cope, but also to reach any other parent who might feel this way today. To show them they're not alone. To add a layer of reality and gravity to the curated pictures of parental joy and silliness that fill your social media feed. To share, to share emotions and experiences, because you're sure as hell not going to share this Lara bar.