Syl

Dear Syl,

One of the universal sentiments other parents expressed to me while I was pregnant with you was how quickly you will grow up.  Of course, I knew this because I’ve watched your sister grow, but the sentiment was renewed with you.   I found out I was pregnant with you at a tapas bar in Seville on a vacation that feels recent.  My pregnancy seemed short until the end, when I was so ready to meet you.  Your birth feels like it could have been yesterday.  And already my first months with you cozied up together on the couch or reading at a cafe as you nursed feel like a chapter that began and ended with the long Michigan winter, with its short days and freezing temperatures and you constantly in my arms.

At nearly four months, you rarely get into fetal position when I pick you up — your eyes don’t squint, you don’t bring your balled-up fists to your temples and tuck your knees up and cross your feet at the ankles.  Instead, you look at me and smile and sometimes you make gutteral baby sounds that trigger all of my hormones and make me want to go back to the beginning, when I held you and fed you all day.  Now you are happy on your stomach, arching your chest to the sky and pressing your forearms into the ground and taking in all that is around you with raised eyebrows.   You are happy on your back, too, and just learned to grab your toes last weekend.  You are opening.

I recognize the privilege of witnessing you grow from concept to fetus to infant, and while I would never wish for anything but your progress, your rapid development is a reminder of how fleeting life is.

One of my very favorite children’s books by one of my very favorite children’s authors came out last year:  Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers, written to his son in the first two months of his son’s life.  I gave this book to you and your sister for Christmas.  In the book, Jeffers makes an effort to introduce his child to some basic truths about Earth, science, people.  He writes, “Things can sometimes move slowly here on Earth.  More often, though, they move quickly, so use your time well. It will be gone before you know it… Now, if you need to know anything else… just ask.  I won’t be far away. And when I’m not around… you can always ask someone else.  You’re never alone on Earth.”

Like Jeffers offering his son some wisdom (and beautiful illustrations), I am excited to give this blog and these words to you, as well as your sister, in an effort to share some things that I believe to be true.  And whether these are your truths or not, I hope you know that no matter how you grow and change and test and rebel, my love for you will always be unconditional.  Welcome to the family, fierce little lady.

Love,

Mom

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Some Lessons on Female Friendship

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Dear Mimi,

Mimi, it is fascinating to see how young you are and yet how capable you are of having meaningful friendships.   The way you relate to others now will be the building blocks for your future relationships.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you grow:

I’m reading a book called the H-Spot by Jill Filipovic about making female happiness a political agenda.  A few Saturdays ago I was on an early morning walk with Joanna, who told me she heard the author speak and that the book was worth picking up.  That very day Ti texted me a photo featuring a glass of wine, her feet crossed in front of her, and in the foreground, the cover of H-Spot.  I downloaded it on my Kindle that night.  Lesson One: when two smart women, who also happen to be two of your favorite people, recommend a book, read that book.  We can learn so much from each other.

Lesson Two:  Make true friends.  I remember your Grammy saying to me over and over:  make sure [name of girl I was friends with] is a “true blue” friend.  My first clear example of a strong female friendship was Anne (of Green Gables) and Diana, “kindred spirits.”  I have always looked for kindred spirits — you’ll know her when you find her.  They are the ones that let you be yourself, open up to you, and want the best for you.

Lesson Three:  Pass notes.  There are things we say, and then there is what we write.  Anyone who has ever written or received a love letter understands the power of the written word in a romantic context.  A thoughtfully written statement of love or admiration or congratulations is powerful also when directed to your friends.  Over the years I have exchanged countless handwritten letters with my second cousin, Emily.  We first met at a family reunion when we were young, and we have letters that date back to when we were in grade school.  By the time we started going to summer camp together after seventh grade, we had written volumes.  We were camp counselors together, lived together in college all four years, and she was the person I went to for advice when I became pregnant with you.

Lesson Four:  Build friendships with people who are different from yourself intellectually, racially, ethnically, spiritually, etc.  These friendships will likely require more of an effort to find, because you will have to travel outside of your normal circles.  But they will challenge you and make you better understand yourself and this very diverse world we live in.  I just heard Janet Mock’s podcast interview with Lena Dunham and thought it underscored how we can find our same values in people seemingly different from us, how imperfect we are, and how our friends can hold a mirror to us at just the right time.

Lesson Five:  Don’t be a mean girl and don’t make space in your life for mean girls.  Feminism requires that we empower ourselves and other women.  Remember that when people are mean, it’s because they are hurting.  Stand tall and make space for others to do the same.

Lesson Six:  Keep your long distance friends.  I’ve moved away from so many dear friends, and they’ve moved away from me.  But using technology to check in with them and airline miles to visit them feels intentional and special.  I’ve known Lindsey since college, and she is hands down the person I know who is best at keeping in touch — and it is a skill.  She visited me when I was living in rural Ukraine, visited another friend while she lived in Kenya, and makes an effort to call and check in regularly.  It takes more effort to see a long distance friend than it would a neighbor, but that effort can feed the friendship and keep it strong, especially with the right people.

Lesson Seven:  Build sisterhoods in the place you live.  Every time I’ve moved somewhere or made a big transition, I’ve met interesting, compassionate, smart women — they are everywhere.  Whether a person stays in your life or only makes a brief appearance, those friendships can add depth to your experiences.  After law school several women, some of whom I knew well and others I didn’t, started an informal lean-in-group-meets-book-club-meets-brunch-club where we discuss careers, family, finances, love, and where we laugh a lot.  We take summer trips together.  We update each other on life events via email announcement.  These women were among my first visitors after you were born.  While each friendship is valuable in its own right, the collective wisdom and support of the group is palpable each time we gather.

Lesson Eight:  Celebrate your female friendships.  In her book, Filipovic characterized friendships in a way I completely related to — but she also writes about the lack of rituals and traditions we have to celebrate female friendships and their milestones.  I started thinking about this.  How do I celebrate my friends?  How do they celebrate me?  However it looks, remind your friends why they matter and why you love them.

Love,

Mom

Photo credit: Tara C. 

privilege and parenting when people in Syria die of sarin

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Mimi,

As a person who tends to see the world with optimism and empathy, I have long struggled with how to approach the immense, persistent darkness and uncertainty that exists outside of our lives. It is our responsibility to know from travel and news and books that other people experience these harms daily. This is especially the case in war-torn areas, where sudden death and violence become a way of life.

I remember when I traveled with your Auntie Ti to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a tour guide in Sarajevo not much older than us described getting water for his family as a kid during the war there in the early nineties. He had to run a zig-zag pattern to the water source and occasionally heard a sniper’s bullet whiz by him. Even at that time, over a decade before I became your mom, I thought about what that man’s parents must have felt at the near constant threat of losing their child to the war.

The morning of April 4, the people of Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria experienced an airstrike exposing hundreds to sarin, a banned chemical substance that left 72 people dead with the death toll likely to rise. Parents lost children, young and grown, and partners and friends lost each other. All at the hands of a government comfortable unleashing chemical warfare on its citizens in violation of humanitarian law but with no recourse from foreign governments, including our own.

You will not have exposure to news like this for a long time. Your dad and I have the privilege of protecting you from harm as best we can and following the common Western parenting advice that kids should avoid violent media until at least age six, and then only in small doses. But other parents do not have that privilege and you have age peers who have already been exposed to the type of violence most Americans only see in movies or on the news.

That discrepancy shapes people and paths and lives. Yet I know that perhaps especially where it is most difficult, parents often do what they believe is best for their children. As I watch from the safe perch of thousands of miles away Syrian parents boarding boats, leaving their belongings and wealth, being split apart, considered lucky if they arrive to the cold greeting of countries reluctant to accept them, I think of this poem and this image and these words from a brave little girl (if you haven’t read through Bana Alabed’s tweets, now is the time). And I wonder what I would do as your mom, what level of strength I would muster, what I would tell you, were we to experience such extreme harm.

While I hope I can do everything in my power to protect you from every kind of exposure to violence for a long time, there are steps I can take with you now so that you have perspective later. Never has it been more important to sit down together after daycare and call our senators about issues that shape your future. Never has it been more important to teach you kindness and empathy. Never has it been more important to teach you about bodily integrity and autonomy and the importance of individual life. Never has it been more important to help you understand the Catholic and Muslim faith traditions you come from. As you grow and have questions about how the world works, never has it been more important to answer you respectfully and honestly.

Your Mom

required reading

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I began reading to my daughter Mimi right after she was born, eager to share a love of language and books.  On those long, wet winter days during my maternity leave, I would cozy up on our couch in a room full of natural light, open up Shel Silverstien’s Where the Sidewalk Ends or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World, and we would read together until Mimi had a need that shifted us elsewhere.

At fifteen months, Mimi plucks a favorite book off of the shelf, hands it to me, then turns around, slowly backing up until she can plop down onto my lap, eyes studying the book as we open it together.

Books are the toys we value most so we have a lot of them.  There are a few, though, that speak to raising a strong little girl who is proud of who she is, kind to others, and full of imagination.  In today’s climate these books feel particularly important to introduce early and often.

And they were particularly helpful in spurring early conversations with Mimi about the Womxn’s March we took her to this weekend in Seattle.

A is for activist by Inosanto Nagara

Courduroy by Don Freeman

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein

One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

What books would you add to this list?

why we marched

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To My Fierce Little Lady,

We marched in the Seattle Womxn’s March today as a family.  We joined over 120,000 people, many carrying creative signs and wearing handmade pink pussy hats.  In Washington, D.C. over 500,000 people marched, and many, many more marched in cities around the country.  (Your aunt said that the march she attended in Detroit was a spiritual experience.)  

These are trying times that challenge even the most hopeful spirit.  On Friday Donald Trump became the president of our country.  He has consistently used his financial and political power to bully people and the press and, I fear, now, other countries, failing to take responsibility for the harm he creates.  He has been publicly racist, sexist, bigoted, and hate-filled.  He plans to fill his administration with self-interested, wealthy business leaders who in some cases do not believe in the protections the agencies they have been nominated to run are meant to enforce.  The spate of Senate confirmation hearings last week heightened my fear that we may be facing attempts to completely dismantle government services we take for granted, like a public school system.

Trump has a Republican House and Senate and a vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court, which would in many cases provide a fifth and deciding conservative vote.  (And let us not forget that this was President Obama’s to fill when Justice Scalia died in February of 2016.)  Because of this consolidation of power, Trump is certain to undo years of progress in civil rights, climate change, education, healthcare, immigration, reproductive justice, campaign finance, and more.  He threatens to undo the fundamental pillars of our democracy.  He has shown consistent disregard for rule of law, and enters his presidency in direct violation of the US Constitution’s prohibition against presidential conflicts of interest due to his massive and intricate business dealings he will not give up in a manner that resolves those conflicts.  He has aligned himself with foreign leaders who employ abusive tactics to maintain power.  And he lies openly, compulsively.  

It was important to me to share today’s historical march with you because I want you to understand that even in the face of all of this, you have a voice and your voice matters.  Your brown skin and female body and multiracial and multiethnic background mean that you will experience sexism and racism and at times you will feel defeated.  In those moments I want to remind you of this one.  Today young people like you, of all colors and creeds, joined their moms and grandmas and great grandmas to send a message to the world and the new administration.  Today we showed with our collective power our resolve to be heard.   We told the new president and his supporters that we will challenge policies and practices that harm those already at society’s margins.  We said that in the face of pervasive incitement of fear, we are not afraid.  

Love,

Mom