For All The Little Girls Who Are Watching This Election

my dreamers, 2000
my dreamers, 2000

For all the little girls who are watching this election,

My 20 year-old daughter voted in her first election this year. She’s practicing ‘adulting’ – she learned how to register, how to complete her ballot and vote early.

She grew up in house with vocal, political parents but in her own quiet way, she listened and absorbed the importance of using her voice.

My son is just shy of voting age. When he was little I remember him arguing with adults against George Bush. He used to hum the NPR song, and like so many children, developed views that similarly aligned to his parents’.

Last night my daughter began texting me about the returns. Although she knew her state would go red, she was scared. I tried to be optimistic, but my own fears were beginning to cascade and eventually, I dozed off. I couldn’t take it anymore.

It was unbelievable.

I slept fitfully, wondering if when I woke there would be some chance that the election would have gone our way. I wished for an intervention, for a collective ‘coming to our senses’ that never happened.

Her early morning text woke me up.

I wasn’t sure what to say, or how to convince her that everything would be OK. I scrambled my thoughts together and reminded her of all the kind people in the world. To surround herself with friends, and to work harder to help those up that others want to take down. I told her to watch Hillary’s concession speech; I thought it might help. I hoped. I reminded her that not everyone voting for him voted for his racist and sexist and bigoted policies, but that they voted for what he thought he represented, despite how he has shown us who he is.

My 17 year-old son stumbled into the room, hair tousled from sleep. He told me that last night, just as he was going to bed, he heard commotion from the nearby college campus. He heard changing: “F-D-T” and Snapchatted a college friend who confirmed the protest march happening. He said he had wanted to go, but didn’t. And as grateful as I was that he hadn’t left the house at midnight, secretly I would have understood.

I told him that as a white male he has privilege, not necessarily deserved privilege, and if there was any time to protest, it was now. I reminded him that he must work harder now to show kindness and compassion and prove that he isn’t aligned with the bigot America elected.

I’ve always been a listener, a people watcher. I grew up in the same idyllic California town where I now raise my own children. I wasn’t raised by especially political parents, and for most of my childhood I was reluctant to use my voice. I was shy and quiet and would much rather watch than participate.

It was the 1984 elections that woke me up – the moment when I realized what Reaganism really was and that I had to make some adult decisions about who I was and what I believed in. And my opinions lost, by a landslide.

I realized that adulting was hard, and that people didn’t always agree with me – even in my own family.

But I kept on voting, and talking, and standing up for what I believe in. I knew my children were watching.

So today, I’ve been letting the election news sit with me. I’ve been thinking about how to put my thoughts down in a way that might do justice to the overwhelming sense of sadness and fear I have. I’ve been scanning Facebook and online news and trying to think about what meaning I can make of all this.

And I’ve realized that so much of my sadness comes from the loss of a dream – a dream that my children would grow up always seeing our values validated in our country. That despite working and raising children for two decades, I could launch them into adulthood with confidence that the world would be somehow different – that my children wouldn’t feel the same sting of sexism I’ve felt, or live in a world where one of them would be paid more than the other. I’m grieving the lost ideals I had that not only would they grow up in a country that operated on shared beliefs of equity and fairness and Supreme Court decisions that could impact them and their generation. I’m sad that this election won’t show my children that the world they will be adulting in isn’t moving forward, but that half of America is merely showing them who they really are – and that they should believe them.

Watching Hillary’s concession speech did help us. As expected, she showed us who she really is – and that’s when my tears began to fall. But they weren’t tears for her, of for me, or for my mother or grandmother. When Hillary began to close her speech I cried tears for my children – for all children – who are learning to be an adult the hard way and I cried for “…all of the little girls who are watching this, (to) never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

We didn’t get to watch the glass ceiling being broken. We didn’t see our family values upheld, nor did we see a tough mama elected – and we didn’t see that love trumps hate –  not yet.

                                               

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Can You See Me Aging?

Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.

Betty Friedan

It’s a winter Saturday morning, dreary and grey and bare. Outside my window I look down on my garden; the trees bare, branches arcing and cascading with delicate, raw beauty. The rose bushes are pruned, the soft flesh of the grapefruits fall with an ugly crash to the grass below. Verdant reen grass, green shrubs, green moss landscape my view, with little other color to brighten my spirits. The bones of the garden are exposed in all their raw and graceful and startling vulnerability, green but not growing. We both are waiting to bloom.

bare branches

Outside my window I set up a new bird feeder this winter, right next to the birdbath. I carefully filled it with seed, positioned it next to the safe haven of a Lavatera bush, under the bare bones of the pistache tree. I’ve followed all the steps, but still the birds flit and fly around it. Not one is perching this winter. They won’t stop where I want them to. They refuse to land. What do they have to fear? Maybe they know something I don’t.

This winter, I’m in my 50th year of this life, fifty years of aging gracefully. I can feel it in my bones, in the sinew of my shoulder, in the crick in my back when I bend down to clip the fragrant narcissus blooming in my backyard bed. It’s hard, this aging. It’s hard when Facebook flashes images of my youth; class photos from elementary school, sixteen-year-old sojourns to Stinson Beach, the goth days that stilled my soul. I click and eagerly ingest the memory, scan the photos for others I recognize in their youth. Sometimes I see them aging gracefully, too.

People see my photos and say I haven’t changed. But it stuns me, really. Physically, maybe not so much- a few pounds heavier, my face a bit fuller, my breasts a bit lower and my body baring the glorious work of motherhood. But inside, sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. I feel the stripping down happening this year, the leaves falling to the ground and in place, my bark, my branches growing and reaching and sometimes fracturing and not caring who sees.

I see my daughter’s face, clean and fresh and smiling. Her friends look just like her, really. Their eyes shine with the wisdom of college freshmen, off and eager and full of the energy that youth and growth offers. Her second decade, her time when the world is brimming with experiences, her mind teetering with the excitement of a new home, a new school, a new love.

My son towers over me, long and lanky and grinning with the kind of smile that makes me wonder. His eyes gaze with an old wisdom yet his body pulsates with the youthful need to move, to skate, to ski. His time when dreams deferred have altered his course, his world changing and he is riding it out, gracefully.

I tell my middle school students that well behaved women rarely make history. I write and read and teach and share my stories, feeling bits of raw bone shining through. I prune and rake and weed and dig, waiting to bloom, to wake up, to uncover the beauty, to expose the substance, to pull off the overgrowth. To strip down to my core, to discover the beauty of aging gracefully.

Fifty years, an indicator of a number of breaths and beats and moments my body as been growing, aging, learning. Can you see the grey and the lines and the wisdom that comes with half a century of work?

I won’t stop. I have nothing to fear.

I have everything to learn.

Can you see ME?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Feminism Gone Wrong: Wounded Deers or Wonder Women?

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, my friend Lindsey from A Design So Vast shared an article written by Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, titled, “Shedding the Superwoman Myth: Where Feminism Went Wrong”. I often find many of the  topics Lindsey writes about lingering in my brain, but this one in particular struck me between the eyes and hasn’t left my mind for days. That tells me something. I need to listen.

I’ve written before about the idea that women today have more choices to make than ever before, and with those choices comes a whole assortment of wonderful opportunities and enormous challenges. Debora Spar writes on this idea, stating that “the challenges that confront women now are more subtle than those of the past, harder to recognize and thus to remove.” Or challenges are subtle – until we get to the point when the dessert tray of post-feminism becomes less tempting, and we run screaming into a dark, quiet corner wondering how we ever got here when all we have is all we ever really wanted.

I absolutely owe a huge debt of gratitude to those women who fought so hard for my generation’s ability to have it all, to be simultaneously a full-time worker, mother, and wife all in one lifetime. Never in my 1970s formative years did I ever imagine I would be juggling these demands and actually enjoying myself most of the time. It never entered my imagination that I could do all this – nor did I imagine the struggles myself and the women in my life encounter when we can’t.

I think what we didn’t bank on was the fact that with our struggle to be equal, to open doors of opportunity, that the rest of the demands placed on us women wouldn’t diminish. As Spar states, “none of society’s earlier expectations of women disappeared. The result is a force field of highly unrealistic expectations. A woman cannot work a 60-hour week in a high-stress job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without that job and all the stress. And she cannot save the world and look forever like a 17-year-old model.” Amen.

I often find myself in that place – wondering if I’m making the right choices, if my children are getting the same kind of parent as I had, one who didn’t work outside the home. I wonder if I’m using my time well here in this lifetime, if I’m walking the talk, and if I am, are my kids watching. I am not, however, worrying about looking like a 17-year-old model – at least I can take that one off my plate.

When I was talking to a friend today – a woman I met professionally several years ago, and have come to admire, I started thinking about this again.  She’s nearly a decade younger than I am, and has already been a teacher, directed educational programs, and is starting her first principalship. She’s married, has two young children, and is going back to school. At night. After a full, full day of a full time job. I asked her why, and she matter-of-factly responded that it was her time. I immediately flashed back in my life ten years in comparison, and then stopped. She likened her life to being on a treadmill, and we both agreed that when we were in the middle of it we were ok-almost giddy, actually. We consented that, for us, the familiarity of work, the acknowledgement of focusing on a task that we are confident with, offers what Spar describes as “because these women are grappling with so many expectations—because they are struggling more than they care to admit with the sea of choices that now confronts them—most of them are devoting whatever energies they have to controlling whatever is closest to them.”

I started to do what is so familiar to me, to many self-proclaimed feminist and wonder women – I retreated and reflected. I second guessed, I what-if-ed, I imagined the different choices I could have made, should have made, and then saw myself ten years ago. Two small kids, a full time job, a husband with health challenges. The enormous weight I was carrying crushed down on my shoulders like a giant hand, forcing me into the ground. For a moment, I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I had somehow let myself down.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (Photo credit: Looking Glass)

And then I stopped. First world problems, Jen, my inner muse whispered to me. Be grateful for what you have. The choices you have are more than many women today can ever dream of. Don’t let anyone make you feel you’ve done anything other than the right thing. Everything happens for a reason.

Suddenly that put it all in perspective for me. Debora Spar, Lindsey and I agree – it comes down to choice. “Women need to realize that having it all means giving something up—choosing which piece of the perfect picture to relinquish, or rework, or delay.” I made my choices long ago, and most of them, I think, have been pretty good ones. I learned that maybe I can’t have it ‘all’, but I can have what I need – and for that, I am grateful. Blessed. Proud.

For all those moments when I felt like a wounded deer – and those arrows still pierce now and then – and for all those days when the Wonder Woman cape chokes my neck – and it does on a regular basis – I am grateful. I thank the women who came before me, who paid for my ability to be more, do more, than they ever dreamed. I thank them because I get to choose. That’s what I get to carry on to the women who come after me.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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