Making Memories

Nothing signals the arrival of that most magical time of year quite like me yelling at my kids to stop messing with the Christmas tree.

Millie and I decorated the entire tree this year while the boys were at school. We saved a few of Henry and Charlie’s favorite ornaments for them to hang when they arrived home. Which was a fun process for all of approximately four minutes before all three of them started rearranging ornaments (NOPE) and then started dropping things through the branches of the tree for fun (SUPER NOPE). Ornaments were falling, kids were fighting, my patience was quickly evaporating. So, naturally, I hollered at them to CUT! IT! OUT! with the tree (I might not have used such judicious language).

Then, like some kind of rookie, I wrapped all of the presents super early. I was really proud that I was winning my Christmas to-do list but my eagerness was rewarded with the kids digging into the pile of precariously stacked presents under the tree, searching for names and shaking boxes (“DEFINITELY LEGOS!”). Some of the wrapping paper on the oddly-shaped presents started to rip and, listen up, I certainly didn’t spend three afternoons locked in my bedroom watching The Good Wife reruns just to have my kids destroy all of my hard wrapping work. So, naturally, I hollered at them to STOP! TOUCHING! THE PRESENTS! (I might not have used such judicious language).

I’m so happy my kids will have such charming memories of a warm and loving holiday season to reflect back upon when they are grown.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

I spent a lot of time this year carefully selecting presents for the kids that I thought they’d really enjoy (as opposed to just grabbing random things from the clearance endcaps at Target). Some were requested (LEGO! always, until the end of time), some will be a surprise (Snap Circuits!), some are throwbacks (Rubix Cube! Twister!) but there’s an awful lot of thoughtfulness and love and time and effort and money underneath that tree. I mean, I learned how to replace the ribbon in an antique typewriter for Charlie this year. They better appreciate it, is my point here, because I took my gift game up several notches. If any of my children look even REMOTELY disappointed with their presents on Christmas morning, I swear I will do a Real Housewives table flip, walk out the front door and find another family to celebrate with.

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I don’t want to brag or anything but Bob casually mentioned he was going to take the kids to the Walmart in West Virginia on Saturday so they could pick out a few things to wrap and place under the tree for me. You can probably guess my delight. Obviously, Bob and the kids are taking just as great care in selecting my presents as I took in selecting theirs. I can’t wait to unwrap my new spatula!

ALSO, Bob turns 57 years old today! Happy birthday, husband! Hope you treat yourself to a little something extra special from the cafeteria at work because I’m pretty tuckered out after all of the tree policing, present wrapping and kid hollering.

Having two December birthdays in our family, one five days before Christmas and one five days after Christmas, I can definitively state that pre-Christmas birthdays are rough. Everyone is in stressed out, frantic, pre-holiday mode. By the time Henry’s birthday rolls around on December 30, the holiday work is all over and we’re in more of a celebratory mood. Bob explains every year that he was never supposed to be a December baby and was actually born five weeks early. He also claims that he was dropped on his head as an infant by his sister and, coupled with his premature birth, offers it all up as an excuse whenever I question some of his purchasing decisions (the BB gun, the bow and arrows, the slingshot, shopping at a West Virginia Walmart on Christmas Eve). Anyway, every year I try to make Bob feel special on his special day. I’m not sure if I always succeed but I’m pretty sure he should just be grateful that he didn’t have to plan for, budget for, shop for or gift wrap any of the presents underneath the tree.

In other news, our basement renovation is scheduled to begin the first week of January. That means, we need to have everything currently located in our basement located somewhere else entirely within the next two weeks. We’ve been planning this project for a solid year so you’d think that we would be on top of the basement clean and clear but you would be wrong. Procrastination is my superpower which means we’ll be spending Christmas Day hauling things up and out of the basement and placing it all… somewhere else. I just assume we will chuck things in every available corner of the house, which means I’ll have to step over a camp stove and seven empty suitcases just to crawl into my bed at night. The boys are really going to enjoy the loveseat and ottoman we’re adding to their room!

To summarize, EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING ALL AT ONCE.

Also, you cannot watch this without smiling and dancing a little in your chair. You can try to resist but it’s futile. CHRISTMAS, LET’S DO THIS.

A Revolution of Kindness

A few days prior to the election, a friend added me to a secret Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. As the name implies, the page is filled with messages of love and support for our favorite pantsuit-wearing presidential candidate. When I was added, the group was already around 900,000 members strong. All different ages, all diverse voices, all with their own stories, from all over the world. I spent the days leading up to the election reading posts on the page from inspiring men and women. They wrote about their lives and their votes and their wishes and dreams for our nation.

By election day, the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page had swelled to more than 3.5 million members, many of whom had donned pantsuits on their way to cast their ballot. Images of men and women and mothers and grandmothers and sons and fathers and daughters – all doing something so historic – filled the page. It was unbelievably exciting and promising. That day was filled with so much hope.

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Backyard sunset on November 9. Accurate representation of a country on fire.

In the days after the election, my attention alternated between streaming CNN, reading the racist comments of strangers on Facebook, and navigating the terror of Twitter feeds predicting end times. I could not look away from any of it. My shock and grief rendered me incapable of turning any of it off.

Eventually, I was compelled to leave the house. I needed to procure food for my family and I was also expected at work. I mean, I knew that life had to go on but it felt like it shouldn’t go on. Like we should just all freeze in place, life paused, taking in the gravity of the situation. I was just so emotionally raw. It was like my disappointment had manifested itself physically. I was sensitive to the touch and facing the world – the world that elected him – made my heart hurt.

It also made me suspicious. I headed to pick up some essentials at Target and found myself wandering and wondering at the same time. Did that person vote for him? Did that one? Where are the people that didn’t vote for him? The people that didn’t want any of this? They’re here, too, right?

I headed to the checkout with a cart filled with some supplies for my family and not an insignificant amount of wine for myself. As I, comically, loaded bottle after bottle on to the conveyor belt, the woman in front of me turned and we made eye contact. As I plopped the last bottle down, I looked at her and said, “It’s been a rough few days.”

“It really has,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.

We chatted for a couple of minutes and when she had paid for her things and grabbed her bags, she turned to me and said, “I hope you have a really good rest of your day.” I wished her the same.

It was instantly comforting. The gentleness. The shared sorrow.

It was the “revolution of kindness,” my friend, Jill, had prescribed the day after the election.

On my way out of the store, I had to make a quick return and when I stepped up to the counter, I noticed the employee helping me was wearing a safety pin on her shirt, a symbol of solidarity and refuge that had emerged in the first few days post-election. While I was standing there, another employee walked up and asked if there were any more of “those safety pins” and if she could have one. As the team lead at returns handed one to the employee, she asked if anyone else in line would like one and I mentioned that it was the first thing I had noticed on her shirt. She quickly explained that it wasn’t something “official” that Target was doing but just something she had wanted to do. I voiced my appreciation as she handed me a pin.

It was instantly comforting. The safety. The shared resolve.

Then, as I was standing in line at a restaurant, waiting to order lunch before work, two ladies walked up behind me and started chatting about the election. When their talk turned to “giving him a chance” and “he hasn’t done anything wrong yet,” I knew which camp they fell into.

“They’re all just so weepy and sad,” one of them lamented.

“Sore losers,” the other one chimed in, as if this were simply some sort of Monopoly game and we were upset that the board had been flipped.

In a move that surprised everyone, including me, I turned and said, “I’m not a sore loser. I just have grave concerns over the direction this country is headed since the MOST repugnant man has just been elected president.” Then, I stepped up to the register and ordered my salad to go.

It was instantly upsetting. The rhetoric. The bitterness.

Is this how it’s going to be now? Sadness, suspicion, division, loneliness, outright anger? Is every day going to feel like the comments section has come to life? What can I do?

And, then I thought about that Facebook group. A page filled with more than three million people that are all feeling the same loss and anger and division I’m feeling.

Those women and men started almost immediately to plan, to organize, to prepare to take action. Within hours, someone had purchased a domain so the group could better share information. When the call for website creation assistance went out, I watched on my laptop screen as, one by one, in the comments, volunteers lined up to work.

“I can build it.”
“I’m a software designer. I can help.”
“I can code it.”
“I’m an editor but can still help.”
“I’m a writer and would love to help.”
“I don’t know how to help but I want to help.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people offering to donate their time and effort. Both women and men but so many women. Smart, angry, resolute, unwavering women offering solutions and safety and solidarity and determination. So much determination.

That’s what we can do. We can fight. In a hundred different ways, we can fight. We can rally against what we know isn’t right. There are so many of us. We’re the army.

A Feminist At Forty

It takes awhile. It’s not clear at first, just how the world works.

You are a bright student. You get good grades. High school is fun and interesting and complicated and emotional and full of premature freedom and lost love. High school is full of risk. You learn there are expectations for girls and it’s hard to balance who you are with how you are expected to act. You learn in high school that being your true self is sometimes not the self you should be.

You hear, “Be a good girl.”
You think, “There are rules to being a girl.”

You head to college. You are young. The world is BIG. You are finding your way in it. There is so much to learn and to see and to do. You have a favorite course, taught by a favorite professor. It’s endlessly fascinating. He is endlessly fascinating. He is much older. You could talk about topics for hours and you do. He patiently answers questions after class and during office hours and listens to your big ideas and you have found this safe space to be you and to be smart and to be heard and the conversation never veers off course. Until it does.

You hear, “Meet me for dinner. Just you.”
You think, “He wasn’t really listening after all.”

You land your first real grown-up job. You’re living on your own. You’re traveling on your own. You are staying in very nice hotels and designing dynamic PowerPoint presentations. You are on your way. You’re in Los Angeles for a conference or a meeting or some other sort of important Work Thing and you’re wearing your grown-up business suit and lacy underthings that make you feel great and confident because you’re a woman and you are magical and sometimes we get our confidence from lovely lacy underthings. Your meeting, your conference is over and you drive yourself back to the airport because that’s what you do now, you independent woman. You’re grabbing your bags from your rental car and while bending down to pick up a dropped something or other, you hear someone call out to you. They are whistling. They can see part of your lacy underthings.

You hear, “HEY THERE – I SEE YOU SEXY.”
You think, “Cover up, cover up. I should have made sure to cover up.”

You land your second real job, this time in a big city and the office is full of older men that you can tell have spent a lifetime only working with other older men. There you stand, with your business casual cardigans and your dress slacks and your womanhood. You wish those older men wouldn’t look at you like that. You wish they wouldn’t look at your chest before your face. You still have those big ideas but no one wants your big ideas. They are not recognized. They are not helpful. They are too dynamic. “Don’t be too smart,” your husband explains and you don’t take offense because you know he ADORES your smarts and you also know that he is right.

You hear, “Try less.”
You think, “Why even try.”

Now you have two baby boys and you leave that job and stay at home with those baby boys because it is the right move for your family. It’s the right move for YOU. And, you need a minivan because they’re awesome, not because that’s what moms who stay home with baby boys drive. So, you go to that dealership near the house to buy a minivan and you walk in with your two boys in their double stroller and you are looking, looking at minivans and no one approaches you. Minutes pass and the men are all standing just looking, looking at you. They don’t move. They don’t say anything. Do they know that you could buy a car right this minute, on this very spot? That your husband hasn’t written a check in seven years? That your husband doesn’t even have to be here? You refrain from yelling, “I AM THE DECIDER,” before storming out.

You hear, absolute silence.
You think, “I am invisible.”

You buy a different minivan instead and you raise those boys. Your boys are good boys and they see their father doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms and repairing ripped stuffed animals with needle and thread. They see their mother balancing the checkbook and mowing the lawn and fixing broken lights and working a little here and there and writing. Forever writing. You think to yourself, “we’re doing right by these boys.” They will grow up to change diapers and feed babies and braid hair and dress dolls and have tea parties. They’re getting the big picture because they’re seeing a strong woman being strong and an amazing father being an amazing equal.

The injustice of past wrongs, the sharp edges of past grievances fade away, are worn away, smoothed like a river rock under water. But, it is always there. Something that just is.

Then, at just shy of thirty-six years of age, you have a baby girl. She is a surprise in so many, many, ways. First, she turns one, then two, three and four and finally, she is five. She is your mini-me. In birth month. In birth order. In dry wit. In the freckles that stream across her face. And, she is so smart and so bossy and so confident. She is the absolute light of her family. “The icing on the cake,” your husband declares.

The thought of anyone – ANYONE – dampening that light, extinguishing that light just destroys you. The idea that one day this beautiful, amazing daughter of yours will be made to feel less than or too smart or shamed or ignored or silenced simply because she is a she is almost too much to bear. Imagining her having to hide her intellect or her body or her spirit to conform to someone else’s expectations is devastating. Your heart hurts for her.

It should be different for her.

It should be better for her.

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I will vote for the female candidate for President of the United States because she is the most qualified applicant for the position for which she is applying. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is a job opening and I am selecting the person that is most qualified to do that job. That is the nexus of feminism: equality.

I will take my two sons and my daughter with me when I vote for the female candidate for President of the United States because I want them ALL to see that a woman can be elected to the highest office in this land. That a woman will be elected to the highest office in this land.

That a woman can be anything really. Anything she wants.