Not our time (at least not this election, anyway)

My mind raced all night. When the outcome had not been decided at 11pm, we turned off the coverage. We didn’t say it out loud but neither of us wanted to know the outcome if Clinton wasn’t elected. So we turned out the lights.

I woke up several times wondering if the race had been decided. I checked at 1am and many states were too close. At 3:30am, in a sleepy haze, I thought I saw the vote count tip in his favor. At 5am, I saw the calls.

We turned on the news at 6am.

I always thought a Trump presidency was possible. His behavior is unbecoming of the office, the vitriol he spewed unfit for a person leading any civilized nation. And at every turn of the campaign, his candidacy became uglier and seedier to me. As the year wore on, we never stopped being surprised by the president elect’s behavior and yet he galvanized support. Sometimes, the disbelief and surprise I felt was akin to screaming in an echo chamber where no one could hear me. I felt deeply sad for the state of our country that we could possibly elevate a person with so little respect for other people, especially the most marginalized people of this country, to a level of political life.

As much as everyone wanted to deny the possibility, as much as everyone thought it was not possible, I worried it might be a foregone conclusion.

Polls predicted a victory for Clinton, and I never felt relief. I didn’t take a victory lap. I did not do anything more than vote and share stories and stay informed. And honestly, hope.

But I am not surprised. Many people proclaimed that with the election of our first black president we live in a post-racial society. I never for a moment of the last eight years thought we lived in a country that was more accepting of people of color. If anything, we have hidden our overt racism and relied on implicit biases sown over decades. Racism remains an impossible barrier to equity in this country.

With the rise of a presidential candidate who was a woman, I did not feel as though I was seeing glass ceilings shatter. Just look at this campaign where citizens of this country overlooked misogyny, deep-seated sexism, and wrote it off as “typical” male behavior.

I never thought that electing her would mean we were in a post feminist world. I did feel the gravity of voting for Clinton as I led my daughters to the polls yesterday. I explained what it meant as diplomatically as possible. I didn’t promise them anything. I didn’t instill too much hope.

After we turned off the lights last night, the deepest of fears of what a Trump presidency meant raged in my head. For the first time in a long time, I felt like maybe this country was not going to be for me. Would I have rights? Would my daughters face a a society where they could control their reproductive rights or have a chance at overcoming sexist stereotypes about their intelligence or abilities? Would it all be obliterated by nuclear war before they even had a shot?

And what right do I have to cry about any of this? For decades, in many cases, forever, there are swaths of American citizens who were told implicitly and then explicitly that this country was not for them. We live in a country where our freedoms are built on the savage wrenching of power and resources from native people and then from anyone who threatened the small, powerful, white elite.

This is how it feels when you feel disenfranchised.

And on this morning, we wake a country divided almost completely in half. The popular vote shows us that we are a country divided nearly down the middle. Half of the citizens lost something today. But the losing electorate are not (yet) disenfranchised. We may not control who sits in the oval office nor the houses of Congress, but for now, we live in a country where we have many rights, and where we can contribute to making our local communities sources of strength and hope.

I cannot forgive anything Trump has said or done in his campaign. He has denigrated women and obliterated the long fought work of domestic and interpersonal violence advocates. He has stoked xenophobia and set back decades (maybe even centuries) of civil rights work. And I cannot act surprised that racism and misogyny and xenophobia are brewing below the surface of seemingly peaceful civic life in this country. This candidate–now future president–brought those views into the light. He made a campaign, exposing the ignorance, the bias, the underbelly of this country. And it is important to recognize that this is who we are as a country.

But I also cannot believe he will accomplish all he has promised to do. The liberal people of this country feel as betrayed by Clinton as the conservative people feel by the liberal establishment. The liberals united but not as completely as the conservatives. I remain hopeful that the losing electorate will remain invested in civic life that serves marginalized people, that seeks justice, that makes our world progressive and inclusive.

As much as I cared about the election outcome, I have to care MORE than I ever did about the future of this country. I have to care about the cabinet this man appoints, the possible justice(s) he nominates to the Supreme Court, and the legislation he will propose, support or repeal. And I hope that everyone that cared about seeing a woman in the White House will do the same. I hope that the media will remain more attuned to every move this future president makes. And hopefully, the electorate will turn its attention to state politics where much of the actual decision governing our daily lives are made.

So while I want to cry, I’m looking ahead.

My oldest daughter wandered in to our bedroom at 6:30am. We told her the news. Her reaction stays with me.

“Well, if he is this bad, the law will catch him. He has to be nice to people.”

It’s true, I thought. He will not win over half of the country with the rhetoric he used to get to this place.

We talked about the election returns she was watching on television and I clearly and unemotionally explained what she was seeing.

As I dropped them off at school, she and her sister chattered away. When I pulled up to the curb, my oldest remarked, “A lot of people are going to be talking about this today.”

“You’re right,” I replied, “And if anyone says anything crazy, you just tell them ‘I’m not sure that’s true’ and then let’s talk about it tonight when we’re home.”

I’m going to watch this concession speech, shed a few tears and move ahead. The people have spoken, and democracy says we won’t always agree.

I have to raise two little girls to believe that they can be president. And today, that job feels a little harder.

 

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Clinging desperately to summer…

There is a chill in the air.

The sun is setting earlier, rising later. The long sunny afternoons have slipped away. Two months of school have whizzed clear past us and we are knee-deep in commitments for the children. We have traded the ever-growing pile of wet towels, flip-flops and popsicles for lunch boxes, permission forms, and early bedtimes. It might snow tomorrow and I am sure that only 50% of the children have boots.

I blinked and summer was over. We filled our weekends with family time, logged endless hours at the pool. The girls finally (finally!) turned into little fish. We’re still holding on to some hesitation but if I had a dollar for every cannonball and star jump launched off the edge of the pool deck, I would be a rich woman. My favorite moments have been splashing with them, lost in their hysterical smiles.

The past few weeks, our temperatures have teetered on the edge of warmth and I have been clutching to end of summer. I have fooled myself into thinking that I can hold the remnants of the season together. Every week I keep thinking that the butter and sugar corn will be over at the farm stand, that the tomatoes will be finished. And yet most of October, it still felt like August. Tonight, though, says the woman at the counter, everything will freeze.

This year hits harder than most others.

It was a summer of transitions: I left my first non-academic job and started a new job at the end of the summer. We prepped our youngest for the start of kindergarten. Those were the tangible changes.

More difficult to pinpoint, though, were the intangible changes. The subtle shifts in our family life. Our girls are becoming more independent–life is getting slightly easier moving through the world as a family of four. We can all buckle ourselves into our seats in the car, there is no stroller to speak of, and my purse is finally my own domain. No more little babies in this house.

The intangible changes were easiest to see when we visited our favorite place–the elbow of Cape Cod. I snapped dozens of photos over girls’ shoulders, wandering through town, watching the fish come off the boats at the fish pier, staring at the full moon. The girls weren’t perfect angels–we bickered and argued plenty. But we also ate ice cream and candy and pie from Marion’s and quite possibly the best breakfast I’ve ever had. There were no naps or diapers or extra clothes to pack. And most moments of the trip, we felt like a team. Our oldest even dubbed us, “the fantastic four.”

These little slivers of family life, the impossibly, amazing sunny smiley faces are now kvetching about wearing a long sleeves. At night they’re snuggled deeply under their covers in footy pajamas. They’re knee-deep in their gymnastic lessons and their library books and being crazy, little girls. It is almost like the summer never happened now that we’re swept up in the rhythm of the school year.

I suppose that’s how it goes. I’d like to cling to summer just like I’d like to cling to last year and the year before that and the year before that because with every passing minute they are morphing from little to big.

But I can’t. So I won’t.

 

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Soliloquy on the occasion of one’s second rodeo

My little muffin,

This day is finally here. You are about to enter kindergarten. And while you have watched your older sister learn the ins and outs of the school, while you have already mastered the big kid monkey bars and explored every inch of the playground as her little sister, the key to this kingdom is about to be yours, too.

When your sister started kindergarten, I was nervous and worried for her. I know too many things about schools and schooling. In the last two years, I have calmed some (but not all) of those fears. Instead of worrying about school, I am simply reconciling the idea that you could possibly be old enough to go to kindergarten.

Until the minute you line up outside the kindergarten door, bug, I will be nothing by thrilled for you. On the one hand, I feel deeply remorseful that I didn’t relish every delectable nanosecond of the last year of your life enough. On the other hand, I feel like I’m watching every minute of your first five years in the span of a second flash behind my eyes. And every frame of every memory is stunning.

From the moment you became ours, you have kept us on our toes. We might have been blissfully ignorant yet confident first time parents but your unpredictable baby nature set us off balance. In your earliest days all you did was cry and nurse, and the only peace you found was next to a warm body, cuddled close. It took us a while to realize that you need plenty of space and loads of reassurance and not all at once. Once we figured out your way in the world, we got along fine. As you’ve grown, you have maintained this as a central aspect of your being–you fly far and huddle in.

I know you’re a little apprehensive. You even admitted you were nervous and confused by all of the fuss. You are different from your sister–you live big but you need time to process what’s happening. And right now, it probably feels like everything is happening so fast.

But, life happens fast, little muffin. And I have not done enough to help you because all summer long, I have told you to stay small. I am tempted to hold your small, curly, squeaky, smiley face and freeze time. And yet, you have done some intense shape shifting this summer–your little, squeaky voice hasn’t changed much but boy do you tell us what’s on your mind. And the insight you have, the curiosity brewing behind those brown eyes, you shock us nearly daily with your questions and thoughts. I could watch you get lost in your own world, in your elaborate games of pretend with your dolls and figurines, for hours. You are empathic and sensitive and bold and creative and tough.

And you are ready.

I am stunned that you could be ready to walk through that door.

But you should go through because it is your turn now.

I will tell you what I told your sister when she started kindergarten with one small caveat: be aggressively kind to yourself and your friends, be loud, be patient, be thoughtful, ask for help, and stay innocent for as long as you can. And for you, littlest one, be yourself. Others will think you’re cut from the same cloth as your sister, and while this may be true sometimes, you are your own person and have the right to be yourself.

Fly now. We can cuddle later.

Love,

Mom

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Beyond the Professoriate

May 7, 2016 is the three-year anniversary of my dissertation defense.

Three. Years.

Three years ago, my little daughter was 2, my oldest was 5. We were seriously muddling through day-to-day. Graduation day looked like this:

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Hood askew, girls refusing to smile for just one photo. (May 2013)

I’d like to think that I had a very concrete plan for next steps after graduate school but the truth is that I was not entirely sure what would happen once I finished. I had a short term job lined up, I knew I would have to look for other opportunities, and it was time to start hustling.

And hustle I did. I said yes to everything that crossed my desk: committees at the college where I taught short-term, connections offered by my chair to local organizations looking for a researcher, professional development opportunities in the community. I just said yes.

I kept a list of people I met, organizations I admired, and skills I needed to cultivate. I paid incredible attention to everything. I sowed seeds without knowing when or how or what they would yield. But eventually, little opportunities began to grow. I still reap benefits to this day even though I am settled into a new and different role as a policy analyst and advocate.

So, it is fitting that three years after finishing my doctoral work, having left higher education for the time being, that I will be participating in an online conference for current graduate students and professionals who are considering leaving higher education to pursue other opportunities: Beyond the Professoriate.

Three years ago, I would have clung to the stories and advice that other panelists will share over the next two Saturdays. I am particularly proud of the writing and speaking I have done on this topic and can’t wait to connect with participants tomorrow as part of the Government and Non-Profit panel.

I started Rogue Cheerios four years ago this year as I was finishing up graduate school in part to document what was happening as I finished up one chapter and started another. In that time, I have made a transition out of the academy and into a career that I really love. Instead of reflecting on that journey now, I thought I’d compile the lessons learned posts I wrote along the way:

For now, I am pleased to have a stable job. And though I am squarely settled into my current position, I am always thinking about what I might want to do in the future. I am not one to rest on my laurels–every day there are new things to learn, apps to master, connections to make. In a precarious job market, stability is about all you can hope for.

It is crucial to remember that nothing is guaranteed in life–not even tenure.

 

Posted in academia, advice, blogging, dissertation, ed policy, grad school, higher education, lessons learned, personal, social capital, work | Leave a comment

being 38

My mother used to admonish my behavior by invoking my age. Whenever she expressed surprise or disappointment at something I said or did, she would add a year, saying “Rachel, you’re going to be [current age +1], so….”

It was such a part of our relationship, that I never noticed it, until, of course, she was gone. The last time she could conceivably age me was when I was 28, warning me that one day I would be 29.

I’m 38 now. And instead of my mother aging me, I have oddly asserted my age in the same way she imposed it all of those years. Rather than state my age, I catch myself saying, “I’ll be 38” or “I’m almost 38” to assert my status in the age hierarchy. Maybe I should have stated, “I’m 37” more plainly over the last year.

38 is a strange age. I have life experiences (gosh darnit) but depending on the circle, it’s like I just turned 16. With enough friends in their 40s and turning 50, I am impossibly (and sometimes enviably) “young.” And with colleagues in their 20s, I’m also inconceivably “old.”

I feel nothing about being 38.

By nothing, I mean, I feel completely and utterly fine with life. There are things I want to do and things I have done. More to do, think, write, cook. And lots that I’ve already done, thought, written, cooked.

Friends one year older, one year closer to the big 4-0 keep telling me that I’ll feel differently in a year about my age. I don’t understand how that could be possible. One year is an eternity and nanosecond. This past year was challenging–transitions into a new job, supporting husband in a major career transition, finding my way back to exercise, launching the podcast–and despite those challenges, I never wished for time back or for time to pass quickly.

In the scheme of things, I am really happy. I don’t feel like I am a year closer to total oblivion because now I’m squarely in my late late thirties. On my birthday, I woke up on clean sheets in a cozy bed. I ran two consecutive miles. My kiddos (with help from my husband) brought me breakfast in bed, I saw colleagues and friends during the day, people sent me Facebook messages, text messages, voice mails, hell, I think a carrier pigeon even swooped by to send me good energy. I ate sweets, felt full of love, felt my entire body bursting with complete satisfaction.

The best part of my day–the piece that put it all in perspective–was the opportunity to participate in a Yom HaShoah ceremony at our JCC. Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day and many organizations commemorate the day by reading all of the names of the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust. I was instructed to read the first and last names along with the ages of the victims. This is the second year I have participated, and I knew what to expect, but was not prepared to read the names of people my own age, people who once probably also woke up on clean sheets, ate cake, felt love. I have nothing to complain about and only good work to do for my family and friends.

So many things are right in the world. I am healthy, we are safe, we have a comfortable home, food to eat, vehicles that work, people who love us. The sum of all of these little blessings is this exquisite sense of comfort.

I can’t lament getting older. At least not today.

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Living with four year olds….

Most of the time, four is pretty supreme.

Everything about the world is almost accessible when you’re four. You can walk, you can climb and run. Nearly everything you say is intelligible to other children and most adults. No one holds you down to change your diaper. You can see on the counters in the kitchen. You can eat food and sometimes the food tastes amazing. You are sometimes tall enough to ride the roller coaster and your parents don’t hover over you at the playground. You love the books on your shelf and the toys in your room, and periodically, playing with toys and books by yourself is totally fun. You get dressed yourself and even match your shoes. The world is opening itself up to you.

Yet, four is also a turning point, a fever pitch.

When you are four, you suffer intolerable injustices. No one appreciates how fast you can run….or how far away you can run, either. Sometimes, grown up people nod and smile when you talk or they ignore you even though you’re telling them just what you want (loudly). Someone is constantly dragging you to the restroom (just in case) and you are sure you don’t have to use it. Grown-ups keep giving you so many foods that taste like vegetables and vegetables are not as delicious as ice cream. Sometimes, you have to be taller to ride the roller coaster, and when you get to the tippy top of the playground castle, it’s actually really scary to ride the slide down to the bottom. You have to share your books and toys, especially with your sister or brother or friend or cousin, and no one seems to understand that it doesn’t matter if you only play with that toy once a year, it is still your favorite toy in the entire universe. You do not prefer any item of clothing other than your favorite shirt which happens to be dirty. And shoes? WHO NEEDS THEM.

I have always loved four. Four is an age of opportunity.

But in our house, four is tempestuous. Our vivacious, spunky four year old is putting us through the paces. We have encouraged independence and she asserts herself to a fault. Her wide smile crumbles into tears at the slightest frustration. She reverts to a baby voice when she doesn’t get her way even though she can go toe to toe with any adult in conversation. And when all else fails, she’ll go boneless on the floor to get her way.

In those tough moments, all I see are dimples. I could disappear in her dimples.

I look at her, and I am lost in how grown up she is. The way she gets lost in play time, setting up her figurines or coloring or putting together a puzzle, she is super independent. Yet the minute I think she’s so grown, there she is in my lap to cuddle close.

Every morning, she wakes up, her nest of curls totally wild, and she is ready to take on the day. Those curls took years to grow–four years to be precise. As a little baby, we had no idea she would have this wild mane four years later. In my mind, she’s still a little person with no hair. But when she sits with me, I run my fingers through her tight curls. I wind them around my fingers until she wiggles away in protest.

Those curls are deceptive–they hide her face. They’re so tight that it’s impossible to tell that her shoulder length crown of curls stretches past her shoulder blades. It is long enough for a ponytail. I resist the ponytail, though, because with her hair pulled back, you can see that she’s not a baby anymore.

Four and a half years have slipped past us.

It is impossible to believe she is four. Soon we will send her off to kindergarten. She asks me sometimes about “before she was born” and she wonders about the wildest things. She does not simply wonder “why” and will not settle until she understands everything that raises suspicion. She’ll ask a tough question, I’ll give her an honest answer, and she’ll string together her version of the truth. It’s the truth she’s after and she is relentless.

It is impossible to imagine “before she was born.” Why?

The world is too delicious with her in it.

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I wear my heart on my sleeve (except on Valentine’s Day)

I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.

I don’t like Valentine’s Day for completely rational reasons, things I know bug other people about the holiday. Sure, I spent many (okay, most) of the Valentine’s Days of years pre-marriage by myself or with girlfriends but I never felt that jilted lover feeling (only once when an ex showed up at a restaurant with a new girlfriend while I was enjoying my own V-day dinner). My grievances with Valentine’s Day are simple.

For one day a year, we pay a premium for something that comes free and easily on any other day.

Everything that signifies love–flowers and candy and other tokens–costs more on Valentine’s Day. Restaurants create a false sense of romance. Everything is pink and red. And more than the stuff and planning is the PRESSURE to make this one, lone night a time for the truest, deepest expression of your love for your partner.

You may read this and say I’m being dramatic but the social script is the social script. There are Valentine’s Day tropes everywhere the second the dust settles after Christmas.

I don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to tell people I love them. Life is too short. I tell them all the time. I tell my husband every night that I love him. I go out of my way to appreciate him (in word and deed). I kiss my girls billions of times a day and make sure they know who loves them. I sign off phone calls with my sister and members of my family with expressions of love. I tell my friends that I love and appreciate them.

And if I haven’t told you lately, readers, I appreciate and love you, too. You inspire me and make me want to write.

But I’m a parent now. And when you’re a parent, well, things you LOATHE are often the things your kids LOVE. It’s tougher to hold strong stances on something that could be commandeered by your kids and made to be the sweetest little thing ever.

It started last year with the school Valentine’s Day cards for my kindergartner. I object only slightly to the card exchange at school on the grounds that at its core, V-day does have Christian roots. Say what you want about its secular prominence, this is still St. Valentine’s Day. 

When the class list came home in advance of Valentine’s Day, my daughter was overjoyed! With her father’s help, she selected Barbie cards for the girls and Angry Birds cards for the boys. I cringed a little. Then, she sat dutifully with the list of names and addressed each card with care, sealing them with a heart-shaped sticker.

She didn’t stop with her classmates. Oh no. When she was finished with those, she made out little cards for each of us. And for anyone who crossed the threshold of our house any time after February 1st. She was supremely proud of herself. This year, as she did last year, she has collected cards from her little classmates is thrilled to pieces.

Our little daughter is disappointed she doesn’t have a Valentine’s Day card exchange at preschool so she started making Valentine’s for us at home. She has been working on drawing a heart and when she finished, she said, “Don’t look, mama, I’ll leave it on your pillow.”

I’m pretty much a puddle. They love to write, they channeled their imagination into the sweetest little creations. I’m powerless.

I could stand my ground and refuse this silly, commercial holiday. For now it’s love and hearts and cards and cookies. But one day, the social script will flip on them and they’ll suddenly come to understand that maybe this day has more meaning than it should. I’m hoping that day doesn’t come for a long time.

I might roll my eyes at the heart-filled pink and red explosion at the drugstore, but deep down, my dissension is laced with a little concern that my daughters will confuse my own feelings for Valentine’s Day with my feelings for them. I know a flashy Valentine’s Day does not mean I love them more, but do they?

For now, though, my fears are unfounded. Valentine’s Day is still benign and fun. And the confirmation of that is reassuring.

Like this week, when my youngest came up to me holding a teddy bear and snuggling it. “Look, mama, I’m kissing his head like you kiss us.” She covered the bear’s furry head with kisses. She went on, “And watch, I’m nuzzling him just like you nuzzle us.” And she nuzzled away.

I planned ahead and picked up a few things for them back in December knowing I’d been love-weary in February. This weekend, I might just bake them cupcakes and give them gifts. Just to tickle them.

When the cupcakes are gone, though, and the cards crumpled, I am comforted knowing that the little gestures leave a lasting impression on them.

A nuzzle goes a very, very long way.

    
   
  

Posted in everyday life, family, holidays, kids, lessons learned, love, marriage, parenthood, personal, romance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment