I debated for a few days on whether or not to write this blog post. The self-doubt was loud and pervasive. Maybe you should just stick to what you know, Rachel: running, fitness, and being a human incubator while eliciting (hopefully) the occasional giggle from your 48 readers with your horrifyingly honest take on the aforementioned topics. You haven’t written anything “real” in over a decade…do you even know how to form a semi-coherent opinion piece anymore?
But here’s the thing that overrode the doubt…I’m in the first time mom/parent-to-be club. And as a group, we do a LOT of thinking. From the moment we see that plus sign on the pee stick, we are thinking about the life growing inside of us. We dream about the toddler, the teenager, the adult our child will grow to be. We think of the primary values and principles we would like to instill in our child, particularly when (s)he is so young and so very impressionable. We think about how we are going to foster an environment for creativity, independent thought, and freedom of expression while simultaneously providing structure and discipline. It’s truly a mind-numbing and complex set of variables, and no parent is alike in how he/she chooses to assemble all of the puzzle pieces. And if any of you have come up with the magic combination, please enlighten the rest of us!
Put simply, I felt like it would be a disservice to my unborn child and everything I stand for to NOT put pen to paper (or fingers to keys so to speak) and acknowledge the current state of affairs in the world today and how it will impact my spawn’s upbringing. And now I have carved out a little corner of the internet to use my voice. It’s a very small corner, but it’s mine, and this is how I would like to use it today.
I have been thinking about the hateful, bigoted, sickening and (I’m sorry I just don’t have a better word right now) downright disgusting rhetoric that has been dominating the headlines these past few days. I’m thinking about how I am bringing a child into a society where racism, hate, and fear are all too pervasive, and I keep asking myself how the hell I am going to teach this child to love and trust in the face of so much evil.
I have also been thinking about where I am today, how I got here, and how my upbringing contributed, and continues to contribute to, my current situation.
Let me explain: See, I’m a firm believer in the fact that successful people end up this way due to a combination of luck and hard work. The luck to hard work ratio varies from person to person, but both are always present in the life path of an individual who is viewed by society, in the traditional sense of the word, as a success.
I don’t want to downplay how hard I worked to get to where I am, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how luck had a major hand in leading me down my life’s path. And for the record, let’s just say that on some days, I feel like a resounding success, and on other days, I know in my heart I can do better.
Let’s start with the luck of being born as a female into a white, middle-class, Catholic family in America. I wasn’t born in a third-world country where war, corruption, and/or genocide are a way of life. I wasn’t born into a tiny apartment in the projects to parents who were more concerned with scoring their next drug fix than changing my dirty diaper or teaching me the alphabet. I was not born with any major physical, mental or emotional disabilities.
I was born into a loving and supportive family, with parents who sacrificed so much of themselves to ensure that my sister and I had a roof over our heads, shoes on our feet, and access to some of the best education that was available. There are so many people in this world, hell, in this country, who cannot say the same. And unfortunately, as we are all aware, we have zero input on where the stork drops us, so to speak.
One more thing…I have what one might call an extremely overactive, enthusiastic, and loud “id”. I can 110% guarantee you that if my parents were not as involved and supportive as they were (and still are today!), I would not be where I am today. It’s just not possible – I would likely be incarcerated. Or in a van by the river. Fo’ sho’. No amount of intrinsic motivation and natural intelligence would have saved this crazy girl.
I have a few more examples of good fortune in my life – to put it bluntly, I was born into a particular socioeconomic environment with a certain genetic makeup that by current societal standards, generally makes life a whole lot easier to navigate:
I have never been the victim of racial discrimination. Being a white female means that people don’t go out of their way to cross the street to avoid crossing paths with you. Or lock the doors when you walk next to their car that is stopped at a traffic light.
I have never faced ridicule, discrimination, or physical or emotional abuse because of my sexual orientation. Nor have I ever struggled with feelings that although I was born anatomically female, I identify as male.
I have never been the victim of religious discrimination, nor have I been persecuted for practicing my religion in public.
My childhood was not marked with personal experiences of war, bloodshed, drug or gang culture, and/or chaos in my own neighborhood.
I was able to attend a very exclusive liberal arts college and subsequently pursue my PhD in a field that I loved because I was awarded several grants, scholarships, and student loans. My exceptional education was subsidized by private donors and (gasp!) yes, even the government! Paying full tuition for my bling bling education was not an option for me or my family.
Let’s summarize quickly – I worked hard throughout my entire life. I studied, earned good grades, mastered my chosen field, had a successful career in Chemistry, and am pursuing what I hope to be a successful career in health, wellness, and writing. I get to write this blog post from my comfy couch in my big house in Huntington Beach, CA while enjoying the last few weeks of my pregnancy with access to some of the greatest health care in the world. My life is charmed, to say the least.
However, to say I did this all on my own would just be total bullshit. Basically (to use a Texas Hold ‘Em analogy here), it’s easy to win the pot when you are dealt pocket Kings. Not so easy when you are dealt an unsuited 2-7. When you are dealt a hand like this, you’ve gotta commit, bluff, hope for a “flop” that works in your favor, and kick and claw your way towards that pot. And that, my friends, is exhausting…sometimes it’s just easier to fold. The true rock stars in this world, the truly admirable individuals are the ones who didn’t fold, and kept working towards their goals despite being dealt a shitty hand.
Are you picking up what I am putting down here? Then you can see where I am going with this.
Call me a “bleeding heart liberal” because I am an enthusiastic advocate of government-subsidized assistance programs. Fine. My heart truly does bleed for those individuals who were not lucky enough to have the same tools for success readily available and at their disposal as I did. And quite frankly I think that many of the proponents of reducing funding or altogether shutting down these programs conveniently forget the privileges that they were afforded from birth (AKA they were dealt the “pocket Kings”).
Here’s a news flash – we are not born into this world with the mental and physical faculties to pop out of the womb, walk out of the hospital doors, and change the world. Everyone has had help. Everyone – no exceptions. BUT, not everyone is born into a situation where that help is both pervasive and accessible. Keep that in mind the next time you are condescending towards an addict, a career criminal, a homeless person, a minimum-wage worker at Wal-Mart who needs those food stamps just to put a little food on the table, or anyone who does not fit your definition of “successful”. Keep in mind that when you denounce these people as “leeches”, “lazy” or worse, you forget the fact that maybe these people were not born with a silver spoon up their asses, maybe something truly shitty and life-altering happened along the way, or maybe, just maybe, they did not have anyone or anything to steer them in the right direction if they veered off the straight and narrow path to success.
Call me a “wuss” because I do not believe it should be your constitutional God-given right to own an arsenal of guns simply because you are an American citizen and have a pulse. I’m cool with that label. What I’m not cool with is that fact that I am likely going to have to at some point explain to my child what to do if a nut job with a loaded AK-47 who never should have been legally allowed to purchase said gun in the first place storms his or her classroom one day and starts shooting. Funny but I don’t remember current events and circumstances necessitating that my parents have this little convo with me when I was a child – any of you guys remember this? Didn’t think so.
Call me “weak” and “naive” because I believe it is truly abhorrent to discriminate against an entire religious or ethnic group, or perform some sort of glorified ethnic cleansing of our entire country based on the actions of a few members of said group. I would rather be “weak” and “naive” than live in fear of billions of people in this world. I prefer to see the good in people, and if that makes me naive, so be it. At least I’m not hateful, scared and paranoid.
Why is this all so important? Well, let’s go back to the beginning (I promise, I’m coming full circle here) – I’m having a baby y’all! And I can choose to be a positive force in my child’s life, or I could really screw this kid up. So here is what I’ve been thinking…
I would rather be a bleeding heart liberal than instill a sense of entitlement in my child, simply because he/she will be born into a more favorable situation than many other children in this world will be. I will teach my child that it is important to recognize and take pride in how far you have come, but it is far more important and admirable to acknowledge how and why you got there. Fact: we were all given handouts at some point; however, the differences lie in the sources and sizes of the handouts, and what you did with them.
I would rather be a wuss than play into the idea that we need to fight our gun epidemic with more guns. Thank you very much, but I prefer to teach my child the arts of diplomacy, compromise and negotiation, because I have learned in life that fighting fire with fire rarely ends favorably.
I would rather be labeled as a naive weakling than instill hate, distrust and paranoia in my child. I want my child to enjoy life, grab it by the balls and plow forward full steam ahead. I want him/her to travel the world, meet and develop relationships with people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, try that odd-looking food, strike up a conversation with that stranger on the bus one day, and have a thirst for knowledge, because this is how we truly live, this is how we grow and learn! Guess what…you can’t do all that if you are constantly looking over your shoulder and living in fear.
I’ll let you all in on a little secret – I was bullied pretty badly as a child and an adolescent. Some mean kids went out of their way on numerous occasions to make me feel really shitty about myself. And guess what? I spent many years feeling really shitty and insecure about myself as a result.
BUT…do you know what would make me stop in my tracks and just absolutely devastate me? And truly make me feel as though I had failed as a parent? It wouldn’t be if my child came home from school one day and told me that he or she had been victimized by a bully. Not at all. It would be that moment I receive the call from a teacher, a guidance counselor, or another parent informing me that my child is the source of another child’s emotional pain. I don’t want to raise a bully.
I do not want to raise the child who makes fun of the little boy who wears a dress to school. Or the little girl whose parents cannot afford to buy her the new pair of shoes that everyone is wearing. I do not want to raise a child who uses exclusionary tactics, or hateful and derogatory language towards an unfamiliar ethnic or religious group. I want to raise the child who stands up for the weak, the bullied, and the ostracized.
Therefore, my unborn little nugget, I promise you the following:
I choose to be an example of compassion.
I choose to foster a culture of understanding.
I choose to provide an inclusive environment in our home that celebrates, rather than denigrates differences.
I choose love.