Our children, so fragile.

I wrote this essay for The Dallas Morning News a few years back, and first posted it here sometime later.
My recent post about little girls and body image brought it to mind, because it’s all the same question: How do we protect our children, when we can’t? How do we teach them to live with their own fragility (and teach ourselves to live with our own powerlessness)? So I thought I’d run it again. It’s all still true – and the kids just continue to grow and grow.

Our children, so fragile

EMILY L. HAUSER – Dallas Morning News

Sunday, May 13, 2007

the-boy1

The boy – my firstborn.

When pregnant with my first child, I had the opportunity to ask my graduate school adviser if we might discuss “my future.” With a glance at my belly, he looked me in the eye and said: “Thirty years of heartache.”

To which story my aunt later responded: “Only 30 years?”

If I’ve learned nothing else since the birth of that baby nearly eight years ago, it’s that your heart always aches. Happy or sad, there are many days when the heart feels it must surely implode from the weight of emotion, not least of course, the intense and impossible need to Keep the Babies Safe.

Right now my husband and I find our little family to be bathed in the glow of blessed days. The children – a beautiful boy and girl – are healthy, smart and funny, and in addition to delighting their parents daily, actually love and enjoy each other, too. We are the family Norman Rockwell was thinking of all those years.

It is impossible, though, not to think that this golden time will inevitably end. Human experience indicates that a day will dawn on which our idyll is at the very least tarnished. The fear, of course, is that it will be shattered.

Like everyone, I know my fair share of parents whose children have been visited by tragedy. I think of my friend whose baby died at birth and the one whose 10-year-old was shot in the head. I know a kind and patient man who lost his teenager down the hole to over-the-counter drug abuse and a warm and giving woman whose previously sunny son is now, at 22, in the grip of paralyzing depression. My grandmother buried my father when he was all of 35.

They are so fragile, these babies. So many things can go wrong, and at any moment.

Paradoxically, it is my rational self that blazes a trail for me down the road to fear. The cycle of life, human nature, acts of God – all act as constant reminders that nothing is forever, that everything, eventually, breaks, rots, dies. My children’s bones will one day lie in the earth, and there is no way for me to know that their end will not come far earlier than it should or that their days will not be filled with sorrow.

My absolute inability to keep them from harm takes my breath away. Limbs will break, hearts will break. Please God, not spirits. The maxim that joy is not complete without grief to shape it interests me not in the least – let their joy be shapeless, I think, but let it be joy.

And so it is tempting to see this time of blessing as a trick of the light, an ill-defined prelude to disaster. My siblings and I were struck by catastrophe before we could read or write, when cancer snatched our father from us as surely as it did from his mother; as I grew up, all happiness was, in fact, shaped by that grief. It is hard for me to stop.

But something about this boy and this girl who I hold so lightly, with so few tools or guards, has opened a place I couldn’t dream existed. Just as I have learned that the bittersweet ache never ends, so too have my children taught me that the heart can be quiet, and that the joy in a 3-year-old’s song and a 7-year-old’s hand is unending. That these things can never be lost, even if they are taken.

I curl around my daughter in her tiny bed and hold her warmth to my belly. I cover my son with the blanket he’s tossed aside, and watch his limbs stretch endlessly beneath it, an impossible length of boy. I pray that this time will never end. I pray for the strength to hold them when it does.

Training the world – on little girls and body image.

I maintain something of a bi-cameral approach with regard to writing about my children: I write about them, but I don’t use their names (their last name is different to mine, which helps); I write about them, but I write only happy things, or uplifting things, or things that are far in the past. Nothing that would embarrass them, nothing that is truly personal and private. I owe them that, I think. They didn’t ask to be born to me.

Today I’m going to break down that wall, though, because I believe my own daughter’s well-being actually, in a very broad way, depends on it. If you know my girl, or if you ever meet her, I’m asking you here and now: Please don’t discuss the following with her. It would, genuinely, make her sad.

The girl.

The girl.

But how am I to remain silent, when she sits in the back of my car, tears streaming down her face and wondering, in a tiny and strangled voice, if anyone will ever love her?

The girl is tall, and broad, and strong, and round. She is 10, and as she has throughout her young life, she has a belly. It’s not small – it’s a real belly. The kind of belly that many young girls have until they reach puberty, and which is usually eclipsed by the appearance of breasts. As girls grow into women, our shapes change — but they don’t usually change entirely. Mine didn’t. If you were born big and soft (9 lbs 3 oz, and she was four weeks early), you’re never going to become anything much different, unless you literally do physical damage to yourself in the effort.

“Do you think I’ll ever be skinny?” she asked in that same car ride.

No, honey, no. I do not think you will ever be skinny. “Skinny” (like “fat”) has no real value, it tells us nothing about the worth or even the health of the person, it’s a descriptor. It’s like “tall” or “blue” or “left handed” – it describes something, it doesn’t tell you that thing’s worth. Or, worse yet, we’ve made “skinny” (and “fat”) into a weapon, a weapon we use to wound people.

These are almost exactly the words I used with her in the car, words very similar to words she’s heard her whole life — or, at least, since the first time she was called “fat” and understood it to be intended as a cruelty, when she was 4. When she was 9, she could already use the phrase “objectification of women” correctly.

And the other day, in that car, tears streaming down her face, she finally said “I know, but you’re training me. You’re not training the whole world.”

My daughter is exactly as God and her genes intended her to be: She is funny and lights up a room and won’t take no for an answer. She is very smart and loves being very smart and can sit in a corner and read for two hours at a stretch. She will spontaneously dance to just about anything, and will run around the playground with her friends all afternoon if time and homework allow. She is a person of healthy appetites, in all senses: She would like a bigger bite of the world, please, and also some more ice cream, while you’re up. She thoroughly enjoys her food, except when she doesn’t, at which point she can’t be bothered to have another bite. She knows that too much ice cream isn’t always good for her body, and she is learning that sometimes “no” is the best answer — but she’s always heard “no” from time to time, and always had that “no” acted upon. Her diet is healthy, and she knows that, too, and likes it. She is also, if I may, beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact, with milky-peachy skin and deep brown eyes and hair that falls in waves all around her beautiful smile.

But the girl lives in the world that her father and I cannot reach, she doesn’t live within our arms. She lives in a world where 10 year old girls are already so bone-deep aware of how we treat women who do not fit a certain, very narrow, paradigm that they worry they will never be loved. She worries — a lot — what strangers think of her when they see her from a distance; she worries that the people who know her are kind only because they know her.

She is 10. She is healthy. She is strong. She is wicked smart. And she sat in my car, weeping about her body.

There is only so much her father and I can do, only so much real science we can bring to bear on the lies and misapprehensions peddled by the diet industry and swallowed whole by those around us. There is only so much we can do about the fact that every adult woman she comes in contact with is steeped in the same lies and misapprehensions, the vast majority of them openly bemoaning their sacred bodies and bonding over self-loathing. “I’m getting fat!” one of the girl’s friends said at school the other day, a friend who is so slight she might blow away on the next strong wing.

There’s only so much I can do. It’s already in her. And even though I never say it out loud, it’s in me too. I hate it, but there it is, telling me how little I’m worth because I refuse to punish my only body for being something other than that which I am told it should be. I cannot tell you how much it hurts me, how furious it makes me, to know that this is what she feels and what she faces. I’m weeping as I type. And there’s almost nothing I can do. I cannot train the world.

But maybe, maybe – if we all work together, maybe if we’re kinder to ourselves and each other, more loving toward these fabulous machines that move us through our lives, less willing to accept shaming that cloaks itself as wisdom – maybe together, we adults can make the world in which our little girls are growing into wonderful women a better place. Maybe.

Please help me. We’re the adults. My daughter, and probably yours, needs our help.  They need our love.

***************************************************

UPDATE: My Twitter friend Kris Lindbeck sent me the lovliest essay I may have ever read about human bodies — all of them. Please click through to read. “I’ll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness.”

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UPDATE 10/6/13: All of a sudden this post is getting a ton of love from Facebook, and I’m very grateful — and Facebook is not the easiest thing to search, so I honestly don’t have any idea why today, or what the source(s) is (are). If it’s you – thank you!

On children and the child-free.

megaphoneI am on record, several times over, as feeling very strongly that only people who actually want to have children should have children.

If you are child-free by choice, that is an excellent choice, and I honestly and happily support you in making it. I cannot for the life of me understand why family, friends, and often complete strangers feel the need to pressure the child-free into reproducing, or explain to them the error of their ways. People get to be who they are, not who we want them to be. Period. And if someone in your life hasn’t figured that out yet, send ‘em to me.

And having said that.

Every once and a while, one hears complaints from the child-free that we breeders get an unfair number of Life Perks, simply for having failed to use birth control. This occasionally comes up around things like parental leave and/or “I have to go home early today to pick up my son.” Yesterday, apropos of the fiscal cliff, it came up around the very notion of a Child Tax Credit.

And here’s the thing: I will not force anyone to breed, nor suggest that if they don’t they’re lesser humans or even “missing out.” But I will remind the child-free that much as society is not made up exclusively of People Like Me, society is also not made up of People Like You. Indeed, the human collective that is “society” has a vested interest in the pre-adults produced by People Like Me, whether an individual member of society actually likes pre-adults and wants them in his or her individual life, or not.

Which is to say: When I have a little more dosh to spend on the pre-adults in my care, and have a little flexibility to spend time with them, they are more likely to grow up into actual adults who are not a drain on society. When my children are well cared for, everyone benefits. And that is what the Child Tax Credit is about.

Indeed, I would suggest that American society does not invest nearly enough in breeders and our spawn, because American society frankly doesn’t care very much about spawn who have the misfortune of being born to genuinely poor parents. American society doesn’t provide any parents with a shared and decent safety net that allows them to both work (contribute to society) and know that their children are well cared for (and thus will later be able to contribute to society). We punish people for breeding, mostly female-people, all the time, every day, by taking away professional opportunities, making child care a wildly expensive and difficult-to-find luxury, and (if the breeders happen, again, to be poor) making parents choose between earning a (bad) living and being available to their children. Who are, let’s not forget, tomorrow’s wage-earners and tax-payers.

So stop it. Stop whining about Child Tax Credits and parental leave and the fact that every now and then, someone you work with has to take off early and you have to pick up the slack (and if you have a co-worker who does this all the time, then he or she is an inconsiderate and annoying person, but not a reflection of Every Breeder On Earth).

That’s just the way it goes. You need me, and I need you. That’s why it’s called “society,” and not “a hermitage.”

And, of course, if you are among the child-free who does not so complain? I thank you, most sincerely.

I thank you for your understanding, and your tax dollars, and your moral support. I need you, and I’m very grateful to have you in my village.

Incompetence or indifference?

There’s a ceasefire now between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, and that’s good, because it’s better that people get to sleep without fear, really and truly. But if it doesn’t lead to a genuine peace accord (which…), it’s just a breather and we’ll be right back here again in four years or four months. So it goes.

Meantime, in all the flurry of activity, I somehow forgot to post this here, so I post it now.

As a peace advocate, I am forever confronted by Israeli and/or American Jews (and the occasional gentile) who take one look at any exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants and say: “Yes, sure, all civilian deaths are terrible—but for Israelis, they’re unintentional. The Palestinians actually target civilians.”

And as one of those civilians who used to be targeted on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I have no problem saying that intentionally targeting civilians is wrong—is, in fact, a war crime. I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, but I have no love for Hamas or the other extremist Palestinian militant groups. None.

But I weary of the desperate clinging to the word “unintentional” on my side of this decades-long war.

From the end of September 2000 through the end of September 2012, Israel was responsible for the deaths of 3,034 Palestinian noncombatants, of whom well more than a third were minors: 1,338. And that’s not counting the noncombatants and children (including several toddlers and at least one pregnant woman) killed in the last week alone.

Whether these corpses can be considered collateral damage, accidents, the unintended outcome of well-targeted efforts—simply no longer matters to me. When your state has piled up more than 3000 dead bodies, more than 1,300 of them the bodies of children, it simply no longer matters.

If we accept at face value the idea that Israel takes every possible precaution to preclude civilian deaths (a notion I cannot help but question when I read reports like this, and this, and this), then we are left with only one possible explanation: Rank, criminal incompetence.

If we reject the idea of incompetence (though I have yet to meet a human being incapable of serious error), then we are left with only one other possible explanation: Rank, criminal indifference.

I can already hear the protests that Hamas and other militants hide among civilians, that they are really to blame for these deaths, that it’s not Israel’s fault—and I do not deny that Palestinian extremists share the blame.

But is it really “hiding among civilians” to go to your own house? Is it really “hiding among civilians” to drive down a residential street?

And what if the shoe were on the other foot? Are we willing to say that Israeli soldiers are “hiding among civilians” when they ride city buses, or that Israel’s Defense Ministry is “hiding among civilians” because it’s located in the very heart of Tel Aviv? Yes, Hamas are terrorists and the IDF is a state’s army—but are military targets in civilian locales legitimate, or not?

I can no longer keep track of all the Israeli and American Jews who have contacted me in recent days to tell me (as if I might not have yet heard) that Hamas intentionally targets civilians, and Israel does not.

But when I look at those numbers, when I see the pictures of tiny, broken bodies pulled from utter destruction, when I see the wailing of fathers and mothers, their dead children wrapped in white shrouds, never to feel their parents’ arms around them again—I no longer care.

Incompetence or indifference, neither can be an excuse anymore. And in the meantime, more children die.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Holocaust Day, my children, & my mind’s eye.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auschwitz_Train.jpgOccasionally, on Holocaust Day or some other, random day, I will look at my children, and see them on a train.

See them starved. See their clothes in shreds. See them with blank eyes and sores on their faces, their hair matted, all joy, all light, gone.

My mind doesn’t allow me to go far down these paths (a fact for which I am eternally grateful), but it peeks down the path, toward the incomprehensible at the other end, and then I recoil in pain and tears.

If for no other reason that I know that I am not, really, seeing anything.

My mind providing me, unbidden, with an image it imagines to be something like Jewish children at the time of the Holocaust is simply me overlaying a hundred thousand photographs on top of my beautiful children’s faces. It’s nothing like actually seeing it. It’s not being a mother, probably even hungrier than the child, for having eschewed as much food as she could for as long as she could, in favor of her babies, her clothes also rags, an understanding (that the child can’t match) of the enormity of the darkness that surrounds them, has invaded their homes and their families and their very skin, looking at her 11 year old boy and seven year old daughter and knowing — knowing — that they will die.

Knowing that they will die horrific, meaningless deaths, deaths that she cannot in any way stop. The moment of wondering: Would it be better to find some way to kill them myself, to save them what awaits?

But who knew what awaited? And yet surely, many mothers and fathers found themselves hoping to find the inner strength to kill their own children, before the evil could overcome them.

I chose this faith, I chose this people. If I had been in Europe during those nightmare years, I may have been given a choice to walk away.

But my husband — whose four grandparents saw the writing on the wall in 1933 and left Germany to its devils, thus allowing the best man I’ve ever known to come into my life one night in December 1991, as we danced to loud music and laughed with friends, a week after I’d become a Jew — my husband would not have been given that choice.

My children would not have been given that choice.

I want to believe that I would not have left them, for any reason, but I know that the particular barbarism of the Nazis created circumstances in which people did things that were unimaginable, unspeakable, things for which they could never forgive themselves. I cling to the idea that I would have managed, at least, to stand with my chosen people, with my babies, and die with them.

Last night, we lit a yahrzeit candle together and made kaddish.

Today it burns on my stove, surrounded by drying pots and pans, in a kitchen with a freezer too full with shopping, at one end of a house that has never been cold. I scrub at the little bit of dried egg stuck on my burner, wash the dishes as a surprise for my husband, and when my son calls to say that he’s forgotten his folder, I get in the car and bring it to school, a note tucked inside to tell him I love him.

Because I can do these things, I do them, with gratitude and with a sort of stunned awe that I get to do them at all.

If my babies had been there, they would have died.

Yes, honey. I’ll bring you your folder.

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I first ran this piece last year, but I have a hard time revisiting these ideas, though they are often in my heart, so I decided to re-up the post. Last night, just after we lit our candle, my now-8 year old daughter proceeded to stomp around the house, being a dragon. It’s a good thing to be a little Jewish girl being a dragon on Holocaust Day.

The boy responds to I Have a Dream.

Last year, the boy’s 6th grade Language Arts class was given an assignment to write a speech about their own dreams, in the style and tone of the “I Have a Dream” speech. When Ted (that’s his name) asked to read his to us at dinner that night, I had no idea what to expect — but the tears were pouring down my face before he got a third of the way through.

In honor of Dr. King, and with great, enormous respect for this boy who I am lucky enough to call my own, I decided to post his speech here then, and am doing so again now. It’s a great way to start thinking about what Dr. King called on us to do — how far we’ve come, and how far we have left to go.

My Dream

I say to you today, my fellow Americans, that in 40 years we have accomplished something phenomenal. On April 4th, 1968, the legendary Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for believing in freedom. On November 4th, 2008, exactly 40 years and 7 months later, a black man known as Barack Obama was given the position as the most powerful individual figure in the United States. Yes, what we did could be classified as amazing. However, our work is far from done in the endless struggle known as human rights. Many kinds of people still fight for equality. It is my dream that all of these people will be treated with equality and kindness.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day this nation will stand as one, hand in hand, with every race and religion. Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, Black People, White People, all people will regard each other as equals.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day you can love the person you choose to love and no one can say otherwise. That you can devote yourself to someone and not be discriminated no matter what gender they are. That the only boundary love will know is the content of your character.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day money will not serve as a boundary between humans, but  instead only serve to bring them closer. The rich class and the middle class and the poor class will live together, supporting and caring for each other.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day all of God’s people, regardless of their race, age, economic status or any other separation that serves as a dividing line will be united as one. Many people have been fighting the war for equality for too long. It is my hope that the end of this war is on the horizon.

My fellow Americans, I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.

My fellow Americans, I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day no matter what your community thinks of you, or what your friends think of you, or what you think of you, when you have a choice to make, your decision is the one you trust.

This is my dream. This is my hope, my wish, my desire, my own personal Messiah. I have a firm belief that this day will come, slowly but surely, and when it comes all classifications of people will join in a splendorous celebration of connection and peace. When this day comes the earth itself will cry out: “I have witnessed a miracle!”

written by Ted L____, 6th grader

January 13th, 2011

On the rape of minors for profit.

The Backpage classified section of The Village Voice has long been used to advertise illegal services, whether it be pot sales or prostitution. I am of at least two minds concerning sex work by willing adults, but think it should certainly be decriminalized, possibly even made legal. If a pimp is abusive, he/she should be arrested and charged with assault, and if we started treating prostitutes like human beings, perhaps that would happen more often regardless of the law.

However, on one thing I am perfectly clear: The trafficking of minors is not only illegal, it is contemptible, an abomination, beyond reprehensible. And I honestly don’t care what the age of consent is in any given state, and am not interested in the splitting of hairs concerning the vocabulary surrounding such trafficking. “Teenage prostitution,” unless conducted by an 18 or 19 year old of his or her own free will, doesn’t exist — there is only teen rape, and those who profit from it. And some time ago, the world was made aware that Backpage is not only a source for bongs, coke, and BDSM professionals — it’s also a good source for the bodies of children.

This horrifying fact came up with particular fury surrounding last year’s Super Bowl, as part of the larger ugly fact that whatever city hosts the Super Bowl tends to also unwittingly host a Super Bowl of sex trafficking on the weekend of the game.

Village Voice Media has made a lot of noise about the fact that it’s concerned about the trafficking of minors through its site, but when called on in public (and – horrors! through a PR firm! Because no one ever uses PR firms unless their motives are nefarious!) by 51 US Attorneys General and 36 members of the clergy to act with greater urgency and close down the Adult Services classifieds that serve as the cover for the sale of children’s bodies — it lashed back:

Neither government officials nor God’s advocates can dictate such arbitrary control of business or speech…. Backpage has spent millions of dollars and dedicated countless resources to protecting children from those who would misuse an adult site…. It is true that, in carrying out their crimes, criminals continue to utilize services such as cell phones by Verizon and AT&T, and overnight delivery services such as FedEx and numerous internet sites. But that does not shift the blame from criminal predators to legal business operators. If someone is caught shipping contraband through the Post Office, we do not shut down the U.S. mail. Complicated issues require sophisticated solutions, not PR flurries…. Adult advertising, as found on Craigslist, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Yellowpage.com and numerous other web sites is complicated by those who seek to exploit this technology. And the issues surrounding the exploitation of children are equally complex, often involving homelessness, drugs, and abuse at home.

Or, in other words: Not our fault, we’re doing the best we can, not our fault, stop being so sanctimonious, not our fault, and oh by the way? Not our fault. Because, obvs, FedEx is just as culpable for transporting, say, heroin, when it had no way of knowing what was in the box, as we are, when the text of an ad — that some human being had to approve — reads that the “girls” on offer are “tender.” It’s totes the same thing! Plus which, those kids are totally fucked up anyway! Not our fault!

That was on October 25. Cut to today’s news:

Two teenage girls thought they were headed to a water park, but instead they were ensnared in a multistate, sex-trafficking ring that included a stop in Memphis.

Kala Bray and Vincent “Pistol Pete” Jones have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Memphis on charges of prostituting the girls, ages 15 and 16, through ads placed on the popular website Backpage.com.

One Memphian paid about $900 for a sex act at a motel with Bray and the two minors, according to the indictment.

The defendants then took the girls to Texas and set up shop at a Houston hotel, the federal charges allege. The minors were given drugs before they had sex with clients, who were responding to the Backpage ads, the indictment alleges.

One of the teens managed to escape and called for help.

In an unrelated case, federal prosecutors in Memphis have charged alleged gang members with using Backpage to pimp a 15-year-old girl.

FBI agents allege in an affidavit that the girl’s cousin, defendant Chauntta Lewis of Moscow, Tenn., and Lewis’ boyfriend, Arieke Lester, of Somerville, attended the teen’s birthday party and convinced her to participate in their prostitution ring. Lester, an alleged Vice Lord gang member, also asked about the teen’s 14-year-old friend, but the teen refused to include her, the affidavit alleges.

Lewis is accused of checking her cousin out of her Oakland school early in April and bringing her to Memphis. Here, they are charged with teaming with alleged gang member Maurice Mabon in Hickory Hill to pimp out the teen using Backpage.

The teen told federal investigators that she had been nervous so Lewis, her older cousin, gave her a prescription drug and beer.

Fuck the Village Voice, and the newsprint they rode in on. I wish I worked there so that I could quit, I wish I subscribed so that I could cancel. I wish I could gather all the adults making all the decisions in their offices, and bring them to the shelters where the survivors of sexual trafficking live, and make them listen to their stories.

I wish I could go around the world and gather all the children, and make them safe.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Things about me which please me (and even occasionally make me proud).

The other day I wrote about things I do of which I am ashamed.

This shame is based in my personal, and particular, experience with patriarchy and my understanding of feminism, and it’s real, but it’s dawned on me in the meantime that it might have been useful to note that I don’t exactly live my life soaked in shame or guilt. I have moments. The third and fourth things on the list plague me to a greater or lesser degree fairly regularly, but I don’t walk around in a morass of self-loathing. Mostly, on most days, I’m pretty ok with myself.

But if I think about it, expressing shame or guilt — while honest and I think even important (we can’t deal with something until we admit to ourselves that it’s a problem. Hello, daughter of the 12 Step Programs here!) — is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of part-and-parcel of the Judeo-Christian (I cannot believe I just used that term) worldview, and — even more problematically — part-and-parcel of Western social norms and mores for women. We talk about what we’re doing wrong all the time, frankly.

What would be revolutionary, perhaps, would be to talk about what we do right.

This came to me yesterday after wandering around at Eat The Damn Cake, through the posts of ETDC blogger Kate & her guest blogger, Anna. Kate has a regular feature at the end of each post that she calls an “Unroast”; in each one, she expresses love for some part of her body or appearance. Recently this has included “Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts” and “Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles,” both examples indicating a certain looseness and creativity to the idea which I love.

The attitude behind the Unroast (and, frankly, the attitude behind the blog’s name) leads me to visit Eat The Damn Cake frequently. I have even written in response to Kate’s work in the past, but yesterday, it was guest blogger Anna’s posts that really grabbed me.

Anna was veryvery pregnant as she wrote the posts in question, grappling with the reality of moving as a veryvery pregnant person through the world, and these are the two bits that made we want to go out in search of her to ask her to be my lawful wedded wife. The first is from We are already normal (a very pregnant post), the second from We owe it to little girls (emphasis Anna’s):

Women’s bodies. Want to know what normal is? Look around you. Working women. Mothers. Students. Friends. Teenagers. Grandmothers. We are normal already.

and:

Our attitudes influence more than just ourselves. If we’re going to change our body culture, we have to change our habits. Even those that are socially reinforced, even those that can be pleasant and bonding, as negative body talk so often can be.

And finally, we get to my point (which I swear, I have):

If I’m going to speak publicly about my feelings of shame, I should also choose to take the rather more revolutionary step of tooting my own horn. And thus, hereunder you will find a list of things about me in which I find pleasure, and even, occasionally, pride.

  1. I have genuinely taken on-board the notion that if an article of clothing doesn’t work on my body, the problem is not my body, but the article of clothing. This seems small at first glance, but I think it’s actually kind of big. That moment, that moment when you stand in front of a mirror trying to take some piece of clothing (that you have been assured is gorgeous and all-the-rage) and make it look “right” on your own body and it’s.just.not.working — that moment is a moment of such deep intimacy with ourselves, a moment in which it is perilously easy to further swallow the lie that all bodies must look like one kind of body in order to be worthy, a moment in which it is so easy to get angry with our very flesh — it took me more than 40 years, but I have finally reached the point that when I start to hear those voices, I tell them to shut the fuck up, and I mean it. And I’m proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy.
  2. I regularly contribute to the social dialogue about women’s rights, women’s bodies, and the fact that — given that we make up half the world — these are not “women’s issues” but human issues. In fact, there are days when I act like this is a job. I’m not particularly aggressive in my approach (often leading with versions of “I see why you’re saying that, but…”), but I am dogged. I write, I tweet, I confront, I question. I am part of the process by which society is undoing its assumptions about rape, women’s autonomy, our reproductive rights, and the essential human right of all people to make their own choices and live their lives precisely as who they are.
  3. I am raising my children to be aware, thinking feminists. Our family talks all the time — at the dinner table, in the car, while watching TV — about how the world treats people, what society’s expectations are, and whether or not those expectations are fair or just or even reflective of the reality that we see around us — and the husband and I see the fruits of this labor all the time.For instance #1: The girl recently complained that a very cool construction toy she’d gotten for her 8th birthday had no pictures of girls on the box, and when she found one on the instructions, she noted, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, that the model had built a princess crown “because all girls ever do are princess things.” For instance #2: The boy prepared this speechin honor of Martin Luther King last year for school (when he was all of 11), writing: “I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.”It matters that our girls and boys grow up to be feminist adults, but it also matters that they be feminist children. We need only look at schoolyard bullies to see the impact that children can have on people’s lives — loving, caring, egalitarian-minded children can help heal the world. And of course as their parents, it matters very deeply to us that the boy and the girl gain the tools they’ll need to shake off the world’s damaging messages. I am proud of the way that I am raising my children.
  4. And finally, in the spirit of the Unroast: I love my hair. It’s long, of a vaguely once-was-blonde-now-is-brown color, streaked with bits of silver here and there and now that I’ve stopped using shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has returned to the kind of softness and luster it had for almost all my life. It feels like a crown on my head, particularly when I wear it loose, and I love the way that makes me feel.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.

Oldie-but-goodie: Ow! My heart!

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere, so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

I was just snuggling with my daughter in her wee bed, and she had been quiet for a minute or two when she says to me: “How many people draw perfect circles?” (Only she still says “puh-fect suh-cles”).

I say “Oh, not many.”

“Yeah, that’s probably done by machines.”

“You know what honey, you really have to settle down now….”

“Can I just -?”

“One thing,” I say, my cheek against her forehead, my arms around her.

“You know those things that you trace where you make everything just puh-fect?”

“Yeah….”

“Does a machine make those things?”

“Yeah, a machine makes them.”

“I thought so. I knew a puh-son couldn’t make it like that.”

I grin and grin and pull her even closer, kiss her forehead, and say: “You are, just, figuring out the world…!”

And without missing a beat she says: “But I’m only just at the start of it. Because I’m six years old.”

Oldie-but-goodie: Fragile

Okee dokee then! Today, both kids were home sick. So, no serious blogging, and indeed, no time even to mine the depths of YouTube or Boing Boing…!

The good news, though: It’s not (in the words of my buddy dissolver) the Hamthrax. They have colds and ear infections and all will soon be well (in an aside: You know that you’re surrounded by flu panic when a cold/ear infection diagnosis makes you happy).

In the course of worrying about them last night, though, when they we were both pretty darn miserable and asking (asking!) to go to bed, I was reminded of the following piece that I wrote back in 2007. It ran in the Dallas Morning News, and I remember crying as I wrote it. Today it’s a cold, but someday, it’ll be something much bigger — and I won’t be able to do a damn thing.

***********************

Our children, so fragile

EMILY L. HAUSER

02:49 PM CDT on Sunday, May 13, 2007

When pregnant with my first child, I had the opportunity to ask my graduate school adviser if we might discuss “my future.” With a glance at my belly, he looked me in the eye and said: “Thirty years of heartache.”

To which story my aunt later responded: “Only 30 years?”

If I’ve learned nothing else since the birth of that baby nearly eight years ago, it’s that your heart always aches. Happy or sad, there are many days when the heart feels it must surely implode from the weight of emotion, not least of course, the intense and impossible need to Keep the Babies Safe.

Right now my husband and I find our little family to be bathed in the glow of blessed days. The children – a beautiful boy and girl – are healthy, smart and funny, and in addition to delighting their parents daily, actually love and enjoy each other, too. We are the family Norman Rockwell was thinking of all those years.

It is impossible, though, not to think that this golden time will inevitably end. Human experience indicates that a day will dawn on which our idyll is at the very least tarnished. The fear, of course, is that it will be shattered.

Like everyone, I know my fair share of parents whose children have been visited by tragedy. I think of my friend whose baby died at birth and the one whose 10-year-old was shot in the head. I know a kind and patient man who lost his teenager down the hole to over-the-counter drug abuse and a warm and giving woman whose previously sunny son is now, at 22, in the grip of paralyzing depression. My grandmother buried my father when he was all of 35.

They are so fragile, these babies. So many things can go wrong, and at any moment.

Paradoxically, it is my rational self that blazes a trail for me down the road to fear. The cycle of life, human nature, acts of God – all act as constant reminders that nothing is forever, that everything, eventually, breaks, rots, dies. My children’s bones will one day lie in the earth, and there is no way for me to know that their end will not come far earlier than it should or that their days will not be filled with sorrow.

My absolute inability to keep them from harm takes my breath away. Limbs will break, hearts will break. Please God, not spirits. The maxim that joy is not complete without grief to shape it interests me not in the least – let their joy be shapeless, I think, but let it be joy.

And so it is tempting to see this time of blessing as a trick of the light, an ill-defined prelude to disaster. My siblings and I were struck by catastrophe before we could read or write, when cancer snatched our father from us as surely as it did from his mother; as I grew up, all happiness was, in fact, shaped by that grief. It is hard for me to stop.

But something about this boy and this girl who I hold so lightly, with so few tools or guards, has opened a place I couldn’t dream existed. Just as I have learned that the bittersweet ache never ends, so too have my children taught me that the heart can be quiet, and that the joy in a 3-year-old’s song and a 7-year-old’s hand is unending. That these things can never be lost, even if they are taken.

I curl around my daughter in her tiny bed and hold her warmth to my belly. I cover my son with the blanket he’s tossed aside, and watch his limbs stretch endlessly beneath it, an impossible length of boy. I pray that this time will never end. I pray for the strength to hold them when it does.

*****

(I’m doing some serious thinking about my place in the blogosphere, but in the meantime am running oldies-but-goodies, because some posts deserve another moment in the sun!)

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