Friday, January 26, 2018

Are you're honestly considering having children? Then maybe don't read this blog #tictictic

I used to dream about the children Scottie and I would have.  Maybe our girl would have his blond hair and my brown skin.  Perhaps our son would have my long legs and Scott’s strong shoulders.  I was 44-year’s old when Scottie and I fell in love, but the timing seemed off for us to consider having children.   We were both getting sober, both newly divorced and both raising kids of our own.  But on our weekends alone (my sons spent every weekend with their dad and Scottie’s daughters lived in Stowe, Vermont), when we lay face to face, breathing in each other’s breath, gazing into each other’s eyes, we would try different faces, hair and bodies on our imaginary, yet-to-be-conceived children (like I used to do with those old, Colorform dolls).  We tried to picture what our lives would look like with another child — a child of our own.

Everyone who knows me is aware that if there’s a baby around, I’m probably going to have him or her in my arms before too long.  I love babies.  I love their smell and their keen sense of wonder.  I love their innocence and how they see the world.  But I am always surprised by how drawn I am to babies.  You see, I was never one of those girls who played with baby dolls.  As a teenager, I wasn’t sure that I would ever get married, let alone have children.  At age 31, when Miles came along (and then Justin followed 21-months later) I was utterly unprepared.  I did the best I could to duplicate the love, care and protection that my parents had provided for me. But if motherhood were a car, I felt as if I were being dragged behind it.  I could hold on (just barely) but I could never pull myself close enough to get into the driver’s seat.

But love changes everything, doesn’t it?  Because Scottie and I were so enamored, (especially when we were newly in love) I felt as though I were being biologically compelled to consummate our love in a way which would result in the ultimate and indisputable proof of our adoration for each other — a child.  At 47 (during a time where my unusual mood changes had me wondering if I were already in menopause), my OBGYN was astounded to find that each of my ovaries were producing multiple eggs and that my estrogen levels were still normal.

“You body,” he said, “is 47, but it thinks that it is 37.  I don't know if you're even thinking about it — but if you want, I think you could still have healthy children.”


I tucked this bit of information away for a while as Scottie and I continued to etch out our new lives.  His older daughter, Lily and my sons were all pre-teens now.  His younger daughter, Nora had just turned 8.  Scottie and I were more settled into our sobrieties and were finally relaxing into amicable relationships with our respective exes.  All the while though, I was aware that with each passing second, I was losing time on my proverbial biological clock.

Tic tic tic.... 

“I’d have a baby with you in a minute,” Scottie would say to me before, during or after a tender kiss.  “I’d marry you too, but you know that.”

But I was already starting to question the extremely romantic notion of having a baby.  I was now 48 and my sons were both starting high school. My focus was being pulled in so many directions that the thought of starting over with a baby seemed far away and at times, laughable. 

What would happen to our weekend-long “date nights?” What about our "just-the-two-of-us," twice-a-year getaways to beautiful hotels in tropical climates? And what about our yearly summer road trips with all of our kids (and my mom)?  

More and more, we each began to recall (with surprisingly sufficient force) the memories of all of those sleepless nights we’d endured, the teething pain tears, the vexation of lugging clumsy car seats and diaper bags everywhere, the hours of homework (that I could barely help with), those inconveniently timed parent-teacher conferences, the excruciatingly long school recitals, the frustration of enforcing those dubiously effective “time-outs” and shrill din of those dreaded visits to the pediatric dentist.  These were all things we agreed, that we were happy to have in the rearview. 

A child of our own would change everything -- we knew that.  Did we want that kind of change? It was also (probably) much too late to even think about conceiving and carrying a child naturally. So if wanted to get pregnant I would need to employ medical/scientific help.  I knew all about the physical, mental and emotional demands of those processes from the many friends of mine who had endured them.  But before Scottie and I even considered going down that road, we had to ask ourselves -- was something still missing? We each already had children, but the question was -- how much did we need to have/want to have OUR child?

Tic tic tic...

On the eve of my 50th birthday party, Scottie and I took an inventory of our lives in that same way that we had in the beginning, laying face to face, breathing in each other’s breath, finger’s interlaced. 

We are so fortunate.  Our lives are so full with our kids, friends, service and recovery that we can scarcely believe they belong to us.   

There in bed that night we confirmed to each other what we both had known in our souls for a long time.  Our lives, just as they were, were more than enough.  We didn’t need to add anything or anyone to them in order to be happy and whole. 

Nothing was missing.

This past August, Scottie and I were lying out by the pool of an upscale Santa Barbara hotel.   We both had our headphones on.  I had just flipped over onto my stomach and was reading a magazine.  Scottie had his eyes closed and was a moving his golden brown foot along to the his music.  I was tapping him on his shoulder to give him the lunch menu, when out to the corner of my eye, I saw a very pale woman in her thirties entering the pool area.  She was struggling through the sea of chaise lounges and had a six-month-old baby boy on her hip, a large, heavy-looking bag in her free hand and a larger one on her other shoulder.  Not too far behind her was a man in sunglasses and a baseball cap, pulling a two-year old girl along in a car/stroller, knocking into chairs and hotel guests as he went.  He had a blow-up pool toy around his neck and another large beach bag that was overflowing with pool toys and swim diapers.  I watched fascinated as they finally found two free chairs and the mom started setting up "camp" (with what can only be described as military precision).  The dad was charged with putting sunscreen on both now-screaming children.  Grim faced, he kept “patiently” instructing his daughter to keep still, while the mom “gently” reminded the dad how to best apply the sunscreen to get the most coverage.

("Watch his eyes! Don't forget her stomach, remember she burned there last time").  

Finally the dad set his screaming daughter free and then chased her (yelling out her name over and over) to the snack bar.  It was then that an attendant rushed over and informed the mother that they were at the "adult only" pool and that she and her family would need to move over to the kid-friendly pool on the other side of the resort.  

I braced myself for her reaction.  Would she cry?  Be angry?  Would she refuse to move?  But no, she just started to calmly pack up their things, while trying to signal the dad over to help.

After they’d finally re-packed and headed over to where they “belonged," Scottie turned to me, smiled broadly and grabbed the lunch menu from me.

“Yeah, Honey," he said.  "I think we’re good.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Why this new women's movement has me hoping that it's “Time's Up” for racism too

Me, chatting up President William Jefferson Clinton at an event in 2001

Like many of us, I was moved to tears when Oprah Winfrey gave her impassioned speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at Sunday’s Golden Globes.  But I was surprised to find, as I looked from one beautiful, nodding celebrity head to the next, that I was also feeling, well frankly --  a little disconnected.

If I’m honest here, I can tell you that ever since this #MeToo reckoning started, part of me has been a little envious that this particular equal rights movement is getting so much traction and world-wide attention. Ever since women have been speaking out and men have been getting fired and stepping down as a result,  somewhere deep down inside me, I've been building a case for a small, curious and confusing resentment.

But real change is happening, Laura!  Powerful men, CEO’s, anchormen, celebrities, politicians — their worlds are turning upside down.  This is a huge victory for us! And it started when a Black woman, Tarana Burke, created the #MeToo!

It's true! I still cannot believe that I’m getting to see a group of marginalized people (women) stand up to the status quo — rich, powerful, White men, and really, really effect change.  I never thought that I’d see that in my lifetime. It’s stupendous.  It’s wonderful.

And yet…

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t connect at all with the Time’s Up movement.   I wrote a #MeToo blog about why I kept silent after I was raped.   It infuriates me that women make (on average) 23% less than their male counterparts in the same positions.  I am outraged by the expectation for women to submit or demure to men for any reason.  I get angry when female beauty is worshiped above intellect or talent. Rage boils up inside me when I hear that any woman has been asked to compromise herself in order to compete or get ahead.

Most of the time, I feel like I am walking hand in hand, stride by stride with all of my sisters who march for gender equality.

But I think what’s happening is that I still connect more with the challenges of being Black than I connect with the challenges of being a woman. And often times, it feels (to me) like the #MeToo movement (and now the Times Up movement) are of particular benefit to non-minority women. Up until Oprah’s speech, I felt like non-minority women were kind of all, “Come on women of color! You guys get in here too!  We’re going to change the world for everyone!”

But that can’t be.  There were plenty of Black women in that room while Oprah gave her speech; Zoe Kravitz, Kerry Washington, Tracy Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Gayle King and others.   These women were all clearly feeling included. They were standing, cheering, shaking their heads and blinking back tears.  

And yet…

In Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” she brilliantly observes:

“De ni@@er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." 

Early on in my life, the hierarchy was explained to me this way:

First in the order is: White men

Then comes: White women

A distant third is: Black men

And bringing up the rear are: Black women

What? That doesn't seem accurate to you?

Look at your news anchors (local and national) or politicians.  Check out the nominees for best director or best motion picture.  Click on the Forbes list of top billionaires and see who pops up.  How about the teachers and administrators in your children's schools?  I'll bet that nine times out of ten you'll find yourself confronted with this seemingly outdated, certainly unfair, and mostly unspoken-about, batting order.  With few exceptions (former President Barack Obama and Oprah to name a couple of the more notable ones), you'll find that what you see mostly, are White men in the top, most visible positions, followed closely by White women, then Black men, and finally, Black women.

So my question is — is the "end game" of the Time’s Up movement to move me up on this list?  If Time's Up succeeds in moving White women up to that first line (equal with White men) where does that leave me and other women of color?  Is the working theory that when "we" move up, that ALL women move up automatically?  And does my status as a double minority shift or blend when women finally get the recognition that we deserve?

Scottie thinks it might.  His take on this is that the #MeToo and Time's up-movements are shifting more than just gender inequality — he hears an unspoken promise in these movements for Black women too, to gain some footing.  He hears the whisper of hope for women of color, the LGBTQ community and other minorities in the speeches that are being given by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Rose McGowan.

I like that idea.  And I would probably feel a great deal of relief if I could be content with the "unspoken." But assuming that this new women's movement is "one for all and all for one" doesn't come easily to me.  I've gotten my head handed to me too many times with assumptions — especially when it comes to race.  An outspoken actress friend of mine says that she'd hoped for this kind of show of solidarity during last year's "OscarsSoWhite" movement (which was created when, for the second year in a row all 20 nominees in the best actress and actor categories were White).

Imagine if there were no female nominee for two years?!  There would be an immediate, anger-fueled Academy Award's boycott!

But the fact that there were no nominees of color in 2015 or 2016 barely created a ripple in the press.  And in fact, when Jada Pinkett Smith called for a boycott, people ripped into her for being an instigator. To be fair though, when interviewed about this subject, stars such as Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney both called for a greater representation of diversity in front of and behind the camera.  But the truth is that no one's bottom line was affected by the giving of these individual interviews.  There was no organization, no disruption, and therefore, no one stepping down or getting fired.

I think I'd feel better if someone near the top of these movements spoke out about the particular challenges that face those who have spent their lives paying the proverbial "double tax."  I'd like for it to be publicly acknowledged by those at the forefront that yes, women are moving up, but women of color are facing a steeper climb than our majority counterparts.

Because, now -  circa 2018, when a White woman enters a room --  she is still simply seen as a woman entering a room (of course, she will be instantly assessed by her beauty, age, nationality, prowess, stature, weight, hair color, etc.).  But when I enter a room -- most people see a Black woman entering a room --  my race being the first (and sometimes only) thing that most people see.
Yes, people also notice that I’m a woman and will subsequently assess me by those same standards, but not before first noting that I’m Black (with or without prejudice).  It’s just the that it way it is.  Countless studies have proven this fact over and over again.

I do triumph and celebrate in the successes that have been afforded us (women) by #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.  And while I am looking forward to all of the victories to come,  I’m still unsure of how women who look like me will fare.  I hope Scottie is right and that we are all getting First Class compartments on this new equality train.  But I fear that (for the time being at least) some of us may still be relegated to Unreserved Coach.  #nomoredoubletax