Shocked. Horrified. Sad. Teary. Heartbroken. Baffled. Speechless. Frightened. Hurt. I’ve been a mix of these things — sometimes all at once — in the four months since the unthinkable tragedy that happened in Newtown, CT.
But right now, today, I’m angry. Seething to the point where my ears are on fire, my heart’s beating faster, and I’m trying to keep my thoughts straight when really all I’d like to do is straight punch someone in the face.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted down a new gun bill that called for an expansion of background checks, extending them to include gun shows and the internet. And, do note, the expansion was not going to infringe on the much-ballyhooed Second Amendment. This new legislation, with the expanded background checks as its centerpiece, was common sense and, in my opinion, a mere scratched-surface of this country’s glaring and serious gun problem. The bill was also supported by over 90 percent of the American public.
So where did things go wrong? How could Democrats not gather up the 60 votes they needed to pass this bill? Why didn’t the Senators, whom we’ve elected, do their goddamn jobs? What the hell happened?
Fear –no, cowardice — money and politics. That’s what. Complete bullshit, truly, and an egregious insult to the 26 lives snatched away at Sandy Hook school on December 14 and to the over 3,500 other people killed by guns since the Newtown massacre four months ago.
Speaking to the press after the gun control filibuster, President Obama called it a “a pretty shameful day” in Washington. He’s right, so very right. And he’s also angry, like me.
“But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun… It came down to politics — the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections.” - President Obama
Standing there with the President, just a few steps over his right shoulder, was former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a reported assassination attempt in January 2011.
Giffords is angry too. Furious, as she said in an emotional and blistering Op-Ed in the New York Times on Wednesday. She lambasted the U.S. Senate for down-voting* the bill:
“Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe.” - Gabrielle Giffords
(*By the way, here’s the list of the 31 Senators, included four Democrats, who voted “nay” on this bill. Remember them come election time next year.)
Also surrounding the President were some Newtown families. I can’t begin to imagine how these broken parents, mothers, fathers, loved ones felt hearing that, essentially, the horror they are currently living will likely happen again. Another city. Another mall. Another school or moving theatre. I can’t imagine how it must sound to them, this message that what happened to you in Newtown is not enough to make us evolve and seek change.
They’ve got to be angry too.
But I know, as do you, that being angry doesn’t move the needle. Action is needed. It’s needed right. now.
Thankfully I know some smart, mobilizing mamas, like Kristin Wald and Liz Gumbinner (a.k.a. Mom 101). Kristin sent me an email with a healthy list of links outlining what we all need to know about the gun control debate — and trust when I say that she’s got plenty more vital links to share. And on the Mom 101 blog there’s this fantastic post with a list of things we can do and organizations we can join.
I’m angry and frustrated, yes, but I cannot let that render me useless. My plan: use it all to get vocal and demand action, demand safety, demand change and results.
At our engagement party, my mother-in-law gave me two little dolls. Action figures posed on a boat — the Love Boat, of course. The woman doll was black and the man, white. They were cute, these Mini Wes, and I treasured them instantly. When I was pregnant with our son, my mother-in-law giddily handed over the additions to the doll collection: two babies in carriers. She had been holding on to them for over three years. The girl baby, dressed in pink everything, is black, while the boy is blond and sports a tiny blue outfit. “That’s all they had,” she said, with a mix of annoyance and disappointment (aimed at the toy manufacturers, I gathered).
One day our son, now 4 years old, was playing with the figures, bending their legs, twisting their arms, and taking them to see the wooden elephant at the zoo. He pointed to the doll family, “That’s you, mama. That’s daddy. And . . . ” he paused, looking at the two babies carefully, “this is me.” He pointed to the blond.
I asked him why he chose that one, trying to sound as innocuous as possible while my heart raced and thoughts like, “We never should’ve left diverse Brooklyn for central Connecticut — it’s 82.3 percent white here!” trampled over my good sense.
His answer to my potentially loaded question was casual and plain, “Because this is the boy, Mom! And I’m a boy.” (Thankfully he’s not yet old enough to add in a salty, “Duh!”)
I’ve thought a lot about race and identity as it relates to my kid even before he was born. Now that he’s here, I still have questions. More specific, I have questions about how to prepare my son for “The Question.” That wildly disorienting question people of mixed ancestry will certainly face: What Are You?
As this kid moves (too quickly, sometimes) out of toddlerhood, making a fast break towards Little Kid Ville, he’s able to follow more, interpret and reason more. Along with an ever-expanding vocabulary, there’s also a level of cognition that surprises me daily. Yes, he’s capable of understanding layered things like how the seasons, sun and moon, and the year’s calendar relate to each other, but could he also grasp a more nuanced and intricate concept like race? It’s certainly not as simple or literal as black and white, and the only clear thing about race is that it’s often a murky subject for adults too. How, then, do I introduce it to a fresh, bright mind? Do I enter it by talking about skin color or should I put the focus on cultural awareness instead?
Granted, right now for a child his age the main difference in people seems to be that boys have penises and girls do not. He’s also noticed that some of his friends have straight hair while others have curly ‘dos like him. Outside of that, I don’t think any other variations register with the little guy. My introducing all these other textures might confuse more than enlighten, and the answer to this crucial question of identity — one that he essentially needs to figure out for himself — doesn’t need more convolutions.
I think about the reaction my Asian friend got from the 4-year-old niece of her white fiancé when she said to the girl, in passing, “Did you know I’m Chinese?” The little girl’s eyes grew into moons, my friend said. It was if she had said, “Did you know I’m a princess?” The girl was baffled, evidenced by her followed-up question, “But why are you Chinese?”
Yeah, for some, 4 might be a tad young to broach this potential Rubik’s Cube. The best I can do is cobble together a plan — or at least a raw blueprint — for when that part of my son’s curiosity clicks on and he comes up with his own questions and thoughts on race. From there, I’ll play it as it comes. Who knows what this kid will wonder about regarding his identity and place in this world? However, I do know one thing: we won’t be traveling down the “we don’t see color” road, because that’s venturing into the absurd and simply untrue.
I’ll aim to be as open and forthcoming as I can be while remembering one key point: I know what it’s like to be a black person, my husband knows what it’s like to be a white person, but neither of us know what it means to be both of these things at once.
My original essay appears on Mom.me’s blog. You can read it here.
I don’t really have a strong opinion either way of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. But he sure does have a clear one of me. And by me I mean you and me. All of us parents.
In his Op-Ed piece from last Sunday’s NYT, Bruni mini-rants about modern parenting, how baffling it is, and how confounded he is by all the fretting and freaking out over “ushering kids into adulthood as if it were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs.”
He tells us we’re giving our children too much choice, too much say, too many chicken nuggets. He gives examples of how parents have lost their way and overall control. Requests have replaced rules and families have become democracies.
“Why all the choices — ‘What would you like to wear?’— and all the negotiating and the painstakingly calibrated diplomacy? They’re toddlers, not Pakistan. I understand that you want them to adore you. But having them fear you is surely the saner strategy, not just for you and for them but for the rest of us and the future of the republic.”
Basically, another You’re Doing It All Wrong screed. But — oh, wait! — Frank Bruni isn’t a parent. There’s also that. His take on all that wrong with parents “these days” is essentially based on his time spent with his 11 nieces and nephews. Aww, special.
Look, I’m not the type who thinks the childfree shouldn’t have a say in matters of parenthood. The opposite, actually. If you chose not to have children, but take a vested interest in the collective rearing of this nation/world’s children, come on with it, then. Bring your needed thoughts to the table. Let’s hear what you have to share. But if you’re here just to hand out criticism? No thanks. Keep that platter down by your end of the table.
The thing about the Bruni piece that brought on the eye-roll from me wasn’t that he was a non-parent talking about parents. It was that he wasn’t saying a damn thing that we haven’t already heard before. Man, listen. There are entire shelves in the psychology/parenting book section that try to unpack this very real issue of the imbalance of power in today’s family.
My other problem with the piece was addressed by the wise ones over at Slate’s XXfactor:
“Bruni spends 75 percent of his allotted column space telling parents they’re doing everything wrong and it’s ruining children, and turns around and spends the last quarter of his column completely contradicting himself. He tells parents what they do doesn’t matter anyway, because kids are going to turn out who they were meant to be whether you let them watch TV or not, whether you yell at them or overpraise.”
I get it, though. It’s a good message with which to end your rant-ish column, I suppose. Reassure parents that their kids will be fine in the end, so calm down. I just wish Bruni didn’t serve up all the vinegar first before offering a little jellybean at the very end.
Three years ago today, I hit “publish” on Ms. Mary Mack. I don’t even need to close my eyes to see the moment clearly. I had a 13-month-old baby boy showing me how much I don’t know and pushing me to figure things out using old-fashion, trusted tools like wit, instinct and aplomb. Writing it out was the best way I knew how to move through the monumental transition from “me” to “mom.”
This blog has been my blank page, my ear, my voice, and my shoulder of support as I learned to walk my own way down this parenthood path. Some days it’s a sashay, others, a tip-toe, but forward is they way I’m heading.
I’ve met some incredibly kind, wise, compassionate, and downright beautiful people through this blog. Some I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person, while others have only shared and laughed with me over the internet. Either way, today I’m smarter, happier and better for knowing each one of them. Each one of you.
Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing links, spreading the word, and telling your own stories on Ms. Mary Mack. To say it’s been an adventure is playing it small.
So today seems like a fitting time to announce a slight change in direction, a shift here at MMM. We started this blog to track that transition into being someone’s actual parent, with the hope of gaining insight, information and wisdom, and passing it along.
But we’ve grown up.
My baby is now 4 years old, and I have settled into this integral role of Parent with confidence and compassion. It only makes sense then that the blog grows too, branches out to cover more things, those inspired, inspiring, interesting, hot, and cool things that keep this brain a-poppin’ and keep me grounded in “me.” (I was me before I was mom, right?)
I want to talk about things like writing, books, photography, and culture. Themes like identity, family, reinvention, and creativity — all parts of the platform that I’ve cultivated over the 15-plus years of being a working journalist and writer.
Of course, I’ll still talk parenthood on the blog. That conversation will never really end (a good thing!). And I hope you’ll join me on this new road we’re taking. The sun is shining down that way. That’s always promising.
To celebrate our growth and blogiversary, we’re giving away this adorable DIY herb mini garden kit. Yes, those are actual wine corks being used as plant “pots.” Like I said, the cutest.
To enter MMM’s Third Blogiversary Giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment below. Tell us the biggest lesson you’ve gathered up so far in this parenting game. Tell us the funniest parenting story you can’t wait to embarrass your kid with in about 10 to 15 years. Tell us a “kids be knowing” tale, how them babies continue to make us believe they’ve been on this earth before. Share anything and you’re in the running to win.
Thanks, again, for three years of support and love.