Monday, November 08, 2004

Election Reflections Filtered Through The Parenting Lens

My firstborn arrived when I was in my early twenties. I was an idealist. I committed myself to certain philosophies of parenting which I trusted to generate the “outcome” I wanted. I believed that diligent and persistent action would create lasting change. I used to canvas, petition, and march. I did all of this with a small child in tow.

My daughter was maybe 2 and a half when she attended her first Pro-Choice rally. She had a great time. The whole world smiled lovingly at her while she bounced in her stroller yelling the same thing over and over again very loudly. Driving home to Ohio from D.C., we stopped in a backwater town in Kentucky. It was close to dinner, she needed to get out and play. We pull over at a playground near a Pizza Hut.

My White female partner and I comment behind our hands that the women’s faces look like those folk dolls which use dried carved apples for faces. Everybody, including the children, are missing teeth. Only the animals in this town seem untouched by genetic anomalies. Our biracial daughter plays - oblivious to the lightning bolt eyes and women steering their children away from the strangers with the child who calls both of us Mama. When she’s done, we go in for pizza.

At the table, she begins joyfully chanting, “Women’s Rights! Women’s Rights!” A hush settles over the restaurant. A waitress freezes mid-pizza delivery. Every head turns. She suddenly sounds amplified. A man gets up and leaves. My partner and I tense. We know he’s gone for the shotgun. We shush the child, eat our pizza and speed out of town.

This is one of my favorite memories. I come back to it again and again - especially now that she’s eighteen.

Here she is - years later - doing exactly what we taught her to do. The first march on Washington my daughter attended all by herself was the Pro-Choice March last fall. This past summer, she got her first job registering voters. She is involved in every liberal organization on campus. And she donated part of her very own pay check to The Feminist Majority and other progressive organizations. Job well done, right?

We are often so tempted to view our lives through the corporate veil our capitalistic society has settled quietly over our emotional and spiritual lives. We think of our parenting style as a formula of behaviors and actions which have been explained to us “experts.” If we follow the formula, we produce a desirable outcome. When we modify these parenting styles to our own lifestyle, we put our own brand on it - much like generic oat cereal and Cheerios are the same thing with minor variations.

Some days, I pat myself on the back, look around smugly at my stockholders (my parents, her other mother, my husband, our adult friends) and say, “See? See what a great job we did!” As if she is some sort of consumable product. As if our design and engineering surpasses everything else on the market and now we have this wonderful commodity which reflects back on our superior knowledge, resources and investment.

What we don’t share with the public is that at any moment - we might feel like recalling this product. We don’t say, “this excellent , intelligent, conscientious young woman is prone to debilitating anxiety, temper tantrums, nagging rages, and phone calls at midnight demanding a more expensive cell phone plan or a car.” Sharing that information would make us appear to have failed or feel as if we did less than a perfect job.

And we haven’t failed or done our job poorly. It is the manner in which we view her that is incorrect. As if her accomplishments, shortcomings and temperament are a measurement for success or lack thereof. We strip her of her humanity in the effort to validate and bolster our own self-esteem.

This time of reflection is made that much sharper by having a new one in the house again. There are days when I go step by step by step over each day of my daughter’s life trying to find out what I did wrong so that I can fix it this time around. What I need to focus on is the fact that at every moment, I made the best possible choices with the information I had at the time. Even if she wasn’t active, engaged in the world or remotely political, she would be just fine.

I’m a lot older now. I spun my wheels and Reagan got elected. I spun my wheels some more and Bush The Elder was elected. But, I kept parenting the way I thought I should which seemed to take more and more energy every year. By the time we got around to baby Bush, my wheels hit a deep mud patch. I was knee deep in adolescence.

Back then:
I behaved as if children are innately good human beings who when given the information about the right thing to do will naturally do it. Harumph.

I believed that children should express their emotions fully and be supported and validated in that. Double harumph, rolling of eyes, wincing at memories of four hour temper tantrums.

I thought that we create children who choose to be agents of change by helping them understand that the world is not perfect. Harumph! Hello anxiety created from the introduction of age inappropriate information.

I encouraged my child to be my friend. (The kind of friendship which is one-sided where one person tells the other all their problems and the other one never shares anything.) Harumph-chuckle, our closeness is excellent and beautiful. She tells me everything, but I wouldn’t repeat the teen years with that philosophy.

I trusted that if I insulated her from the outside world during the early years, then she would come to view our beliefs as normal and the dominant culture’s as abnormal. Score! But, the pain of encountering agents of the dominant culture for the first time was awful to watch.

I believed that the family bed and extended nursing creates an unbreakable bond between parent and child. Yippie-skippy! Got that right!

As I grew older, I had to acknowledge some irrefutable facts. Time is finite. Wonder Woman is a cartoon character. Marching on Washington bolsters solidarity and communion with like-minded souls - but it doesn’t make a whole lot of change happen anymore. For a majority of people, faith is a boulder to crawl under to get out of the light.

And finally, the hardest ever realization - I’m a human-being with flaws, shortcomings and greatness all mixed up together like a particularly potent gumbo.

This election, my poor daughter was shocked and dismayed when she brushed against these facts. She had worked so hard and done so much. Fortunately, she still believes she can be an agent of change. And she will be. Youth and idealism are not yet oversized bags that she is ready to put down. She’s swung to the extreme, she tells me she is a radical activist now. (I do not tell her, "Ah yes, I used to be one of those, remember?") I smile knowingly. She smiles knowingly at us silly liberals.

Liberals, we are such a maudlin lot. We float about contemplating issues, invoking compassion and practicing tolerance. We analyze and evaluate. We’re so busy hearing what everybody has to say that by the time it’s our turn to speak, time’s up. Bush gets himself reelected.

So, I’m watching, supporting and nurturing. And yes, I’m proud that she has weathered a particularly challenging moment. But, I wouldn’t presume to take credit for any of it. I would presume to contemplate returning my Self to self.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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Still have "Anonymous Men..." and "Delusional Nymphomaniac..." and was wondering if there is more out there. Just post where I can get it.

Thanks in advance.

A fan