Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Before I Had Children.

Posted on | January 21, 2017 | 17 Comments

(This is a political post.  Feel free to skip if you can’t handle any more politics.  Don’t get triggered :) )

Before I had children I knew everything.

The first thing I knew was that none of my gay friends should be raising children.  Oh, it was fine for them to be gay (and I’m sure they were happy to have my approval for their existence).  It just wasn’t right for kids to be raised in a same sex household.  How would men learn  appropriate male behavior if they were raised by 2 women? Surely it wasn’t right for 2 men to raise a female!  In my all-knowing opinion, same sex parenting was just a perfect recipe for ignorance and dysfunction.

Then my first child was born, I entered the world of parenting, and I was horrified by the ignorance and dysfunction of heterosexuals raising children.  Oh, my own ignorance and dysfunction was shocking enough.  But it was quickly apparent that being a man and woman, married and living in one household, was no guarantee that a child was safe, loved, or properly cared for.  As a matter of fact, I saw plenty of heterosexual couples raising kids under horrible conditions  (Do people really still smoke inside their homes?  With their children? Really??) and plenty of same sex couples, single parents, grandparents, or foster parents doing a damn better job than I was doing.  I saw even more parents just like me—struggling along, doing the best they could with the resources they had, and hoping for just 4 hours, please just 4 miserable hours of sleep before the baby was back up.

I even noticed that the couples that had to work the hardest to have their children—whether it was through in vitro or adoption or just fighting the state for the right to be a parent—sure did appreciate their children.  Those of us who were simply completing the state-and-church sanctioned steps of heterosexual marriage and childbearing were awfully happy to pass the babies off to Grandma for the morning or the afternoon, or please, Mom, please please please keep them overnight!

And I started to realize that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t know everything before I had children.

Before I had children I certainly knew I would never have an abortion.  That was for other people.  Oh, I still believed in the right to have an abortion.  Because I understood there were way too many reasons and way too many individual circumstances behind a woman’s decision for an abortion to allow the government to decide for her.  But I would never do such a low, despicable, murderous thing.

Then 11 weeks after my second child was born I thought I was pregnant again.  Did I mention that child was born via c-section?  And that my first child was only 22 months old?  Every night I had to choose between prescription pain pills or a searing pain in my scarred abdomen from going up and down the stairs with laundry, diapers, and a toddler on my hip.  I was breastfeeding every 2-3 hours.  I remember sleeping  (those mere 2-3 hours at a time) on the floor of the den like a dog so that I didn’t hear my husband snoring but could still hear cries from the nursery.  During the week that I thought I was pregnant I kept looking in the mirror at my pasty face, the purple circles under my eyes, and the clumps of my hair falling out.  I listened to my kids crying in the background (because how dare I take 5 minutes away from them to go to the bathroom!) and thought, “I will not do it.  I will not have this baby.”  I knew that I would not jeopardize my health or the care of my other children to bring another pregnancy to term.  Nope.

Luckily, it was only a pregnancy scare and my cycles were just irregular because of the breastfeeding.  I went on to have 2 more children.  By choice.  Spaced pretty close by some standards but far enough apart for me to feel emotionally and physically healthy enough to take care of myself and all my children.  But I will never forget that feeling as I stood in front of the mirror.  I realized other women would have committed to a pregnancy, even so close to the last birth.  I realized if I turned out to be pregnant, my husband would have to be involved in the decision, too.  But I also realized that I had no grounds to say I would never, personally, have an abortion.  And I was damn lucky that other women fought long and hard to ensure that the choice is there for me and my family.

By the time my third child was born, terrorism had reared its ugly head all across America.  Foreigners were scary, Islam was terrifying.  Like every American, I feared that if we didn’t close the door to immigration and close it fast, we were all at risk.  I know when someone says “America First” it resonates inside us.  It touches our real fears for the safety of our families and our neighbors and our country. As a medical responder I was taught to protect myself first.  Scene safety.  After all, if we don’t save ourselves, who will save everyone else?  And it’s very tempting to apply that philosophy to America as a whole.

But, oh sweet Jesus, when you saw the body of Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach, didn’t you want to run across the sand, gather him in your arms, and weep?  When you saw the bloodied face of Omran Daqneesh in the back of an ambulance didn’t you want to scoop him up and run down the streets calling out desperately for his family?  If you have seen the pictures of people fleeing Syria or Nigeria or Mexico, if you were afraid that your daughter would endure female genitalia mutilation or be married off at age 12, if you were afraid your son would be co-opted into the military at age 15 or forced to dig his own grave before being executed and dropped into it, wouldn’t you run?

Parents, I know you. I know you! I know that no fence, no wall, no river, no ocean, no border police, not even an entire freakin’ army, would stop you from doing everything in your power to get your child to safety.  So how can you close the door in the face of another desperate parent?  In the face of another child?  I still want safety for my family.  But that safety has to be tempered with humanity for others.  Before I had children I had no problem with putting myself first.  Now when I look into a crowd of people, I see everyone’s children.

Soon all 4 kids were in school and transgender issues were becoming part of the public discussion.  I knew there was no way that parents should let their preteen children start hormone replacement therapy.  Adults, fine.  I knew I was way too cisgender to understand what transgender adults were going through.  But kids?  No, nope, no way.  I did know that preteens were way too immature to understand gender identity and the consequences of their decision.

Then I watched a documentary on families of transgender children.  The parents that struggled and fought against the change.  The parents that called in medical doctors and counselors and psychologists.  The parents that hoped and begged and prayed for this “phase” to pass and for their child to emerge cisgender.  I listened to a mother describe her child’s 2 suicide attempts.  She looked into the camera and said, “I had to choose. Did I want my child to live transgender or did I want my child to die?  My child’s life was at stake.  How could I let my child die?  How dare anyone judge me for what I had to do to save my child’s life.”  That’s when it dawned on me:  I didn’t know sh*t about transgender issues.  I wasn’t transgender and I didn’t have a transgender child.  I looked into her face and realized that for some parents, it wasn’t about gender or sexual identity, it was about life or death.  All I really knew as a parent was that I failed to appreciate all the ways that raising my children was a whole lot easier for me than the task that other parents were facing.

Let me just be quiet and take a moment to be thankful for that.   Let us all be quiet and be thankful we are not facing the struggles others endure every day.  Instead of spouting off our opinion on issues that we don’t really know sh*t about.  Issues that we thought we knew about before we had children.

Now I am surviving (barely) the hormone-filled world of puberty.  I am constantly aggravated and frustrated by the behavior of young adults in puberty and equally aggravated and frustrated with the educational policies set up to deal with young adults in puberty.  I do not like the ‘No Tolerance’ school policy that punishes them if they started the fight, or if they were defending themselves or someone else, or if they were just rough-housing in the hallway.  I do not like the bullying and the complex social hierarchy and the ineffective policies against it.  I am wary of the influence that athletic programs have over students and the limited control the parents have over that athletic program.

Before I had children, I knew that rules were rules.  If you broke a rule, you faced the consequences.  After all, I had survived middle school and high school.  So had my parents and their parents and their parents before them.  It didn’t matter if it was a bullsh*t rule or a disproportionate punishment.  Sure, kids got suspended, kids got kicked off the team, kids dropped out.  It happens, people. Get over it.

Here’s the thing.  Once you have kids, it does matter if it is a bullsh*t rule.  So expect to see me in the main office.  And if the punishment is disproportionate, expect to see me in the main office.   And if you gave my kid a free pass because he’s an athlete, expect to see me in the main office.  And if you gave the athletes a free pass, but not my kid because he’s not an athlete, expect to see me in the office.  Just expect to see me in the office. ‘Cause I don’t get over it.

After years of dealing with the public school system, I realized the school was full of teachers and administrators doing a damn fine job on a limited budget and a tiny salary.  I also realized that accountability is important and calling out the individuals or the policies that were ineffective wasn’t whining or being a delicate snowflake or a crybaby.  Accountability is a process by which we make change.  Same as when the teacher tells me that if I was checking the grades she posted on PowerSchool regularly, I would have known my child failed 3 tests before the grades closed for the semester.  So I had to set up an alarm on my phone to remind me to check Powerschool every week (Just kidding.  The Other Half set that up.  I don’t know how to set a weekly alarm on my phone.).

Plus, there are things we know now that we didn’t know before I had children.  Such as the way school discipline rates vary across race and gender guidelines.  And how the impact of that discipline affects different households differently.  Do I want that kid kicked off the team that has been suspended twice?  Yes, of course I do.   Rules are rules.  Actions have consequences.  But what if being kicked off the team means that kid doesn’t come to school as regularly?  What if not coming to school regularly means he drops out entirely.  What happens to kids that drop out school?  Well, we all know the answer to that.

When I look at my children, I see their potential.  Even when they don’t finish their homework.  Even when they fail a test.  Even when they misbehave or cut up in class or throw the first punch.  Thank goodness there are other adults that see their potential, too.  So that the kid who was suspended twice didn’t get kicked off the team.  He was sitting on the sidelines, having to carry water bottles and sports equipment.  Because the coach, who is overworked and underpaid,  doesn’t just see 2 suspensions when he looks at him.  He sees potential.  And he gives him another chance.  Not because the kid or his parents are whiny or delicate snowflakes or crybabies.  But because when you’re a coach, you don’t give up on kids.  And the other parents don’t say anything about the rules for suspensions and being kicked off the team.  Because when you have children you realize that the public school system is messy and frustrating and beautiful and too important to ever give up on.  Just like kids.

Yep.  Before I had children I knew everything.  Everything except what it was really like to have children.  And having children changes everything.

There’s a common practice to dismiss “liberal” policies as political correctness or moral relativism.  That Democrats, liberals, progressives, snowflakes, crybabies, whatever, have strayed from universal truths and only reflect the current social or personal circumstances.

Yep.  Absolutely.

Because once you have children, how can you cast the first stone?  At another parent?  At another child??

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a horrible person.  I make snap judgments and biased decisions.  I start ranting and raving before I have all the facts. (Parenting tip: do not believe the first story your child tells you.  There is another side.  Usually 2 more sides and 3 more conversations before the real facts emerge.)  I have to apologize a lot and sometimes I am too ashamed to apologize so I try to pretend it never happened.  I have a serious problem with sarcasm control and, although I know sarcasm doesn’t always come across very clearly in email, sometimes I still use it.  To my detriment.  I do the wrong thing, all the time, and sometimes I can fix it and sometimes I have to stay up at night, trying to live with it.

But I know, in my heart I know, that every person I come across is someone else’s child.  And if that’s moral relativism, then so be it.

Today my daughter and I participated in a Women’s March at the state capital.  Not to take anything away from men.  After all, The Other Half packs lunches and milks goats and scrubs the tubs.  He makes dinner, picks up from sports practice, and takes kids to the orthodontist.   When my dad isn’t doing it.  But my daughter and I participated because there are still some universal truths:

Women are still the only gender that carries a pregnancy and gives birth.

Women are still the main providers of childcare and domestic responsibilities, even when they also work outside the home.

So, if women want to see the financial security that comes with equal pay, affordable child care, and paid family leave, then women are going to have to fight for it.

If women want the right, as individuals and couples to choose on the number, spacing and timing of their children, as well as access to sexual and reproductive health care, then women are going to have to fight for it.

If women want a strong publicly funded school system with equal educational opportunities without regard to race, religion, or ability and high standards of public accountability, then women are going to have to fight for it.

If women want peace, then we are going to have to set the example.  And today, all over the state, all over the country, all over the world, women did just that.  By the hundreds.  And thousands.  And hundreds of thousands.  Meeting to educate ourselves and discuss change and show support support for one another.  Without violence.

Because there were children there.

Comments

17 Responses to “Before I Had Children.”

  1. Andrew Ovenden
    January 21st, 2017 @ 10:47 pm

    This is, of all of the posts you’ve written, far and away the best one ever. That’s saying a lot because I’ve loved all of them. Thank you for saying what really needed to be said, especially about being understanding of others, and of the perils and consequences of judging others.

  2. Holly
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 5:49 am

    Thankyou! Great piece.

  3. Rainy
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 6:55 am

    Thank you for your eloquent post. And thank you for marching.

  4. Katherine Williams
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 7:33 am

    STANDING. CLAPPING. LOVING Y’ALL.
    Thank you for marching. And thank you for writing.

  5. Dari Bartz
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 9:14 am

    Thank you.

  6. Dad
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 9:31 am

    a very thoughtful posting–a must read for everyone. glad you and Shana went to the rally and that you speak to the real purpose of the Women’s March.

  7. Cheryl Fillion
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 9:31 am

    Thank You…
    …for taking the time to write and post this;
    …for raising by example not only your daughter, but your sons, to know the importance of these issues;
    …for joining in the Women’s March!

    Some of us fought these same battles in the Sixties, but at that time there were so many women who fought against us. This time, because of women like you and your daughter, I can only hope that real and genuine change will be the result. Again, Thank YOU!

  8. Jill Hallenbeck
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

    I’m proud of you and the job you are doing as an imperfect parent. May we all stand up for what is right every time. Even when it is difficult.

    Women’s rights are human rights. Every. Human.

    Thank you for writing this…

  9. Cheri
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

    I can’t believe that is Shana! I haven’t seen her in forever. Just as cute as she ever was!

  10. Kay Ikerd
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

    This is so very eloquent. Thank you.

  11. Tanya
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

    I am so happy to have known you for the past 20 years. You continually inspire me…..

  12. Roanne
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

    Your Grandmothers would be SO PROUD of you!!! Well done!!!

  13. Annabelle
    January 22nd, 2017 @ 11:04 pm

    Thank you!

  14. Martha
    January 23rd, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

    This was such a great piece — thank you so much for writing it!
    It does make such a huge difference to actually have experience with an issue instead of letting our minds decide theoretically about the ” principle.” I have often said that I was a much better parent before I had kids — I too knew everything. And then, boom! Turns out like you, I didn’t know shit.
    This all reminds me of the research that shows the over-riding importance of empathy — and your essay is a good reminder to practice that, especially if we haven’t yet had our own personal experience with something to keep us humble and compassionate.

  15. Jean Hartford-Todd
    January 28th, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

    I read this first the day you posted it and again tonight. So many of your posts make me laugh out loud. No laughing with this post, but of all you have written this post speaks to me the loudest. It speaks to my heart. Thank you for writing it.

  16. peggy ruske
    January 31st, 2017 @ 8:15 am

    You are such a wise one – have you considered that we need people with brains and sense like you in high places, being heard, listened to and followed? I will vote for you. There will be an opening for first woman President in a few years. Why not?

  17. carolyn christman
    February 15th, 2017 @ 5:44 am

    Hot Damn and Bravo! Love you, C

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