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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

tissues

My friend Leslie called yesterday:  “I’m worried about Hillary’s health.”  I talked over her: “Jeez, don’t worry about it. It’s walking pneumonia. The rest is just right wing blather to make her look old and doddery and frail. They gave her a big-ass dose of antibiotics. She’ll be fine.”

Leslie pressed on:  “Well I mean, last year when I had pneumonia, I had to go to bed for two weeks. I would wake up in the morning and make breakfast for the kids, and then I had to go back to bed.” I snapped back: “Well, that’s not an option.”

Then I took a breath. Oh.  When Leslie said she was worried about Clinton’s health, she didn’t mean she was politically worried.  She meant she was worried about her as a person. She was worried about the fact that Hillary Clinton must feel horrible—weak, thirsty, feverish, ready to cough up a lung—and yet she has to get up before the sun, make speeches at the top of her voice, and embrace thousands of strangers like second cousins on Thanksgiving Day. That must suck. How is it even possible?

Right. Leslie was worried about Hillary in the way that compassion dictates—concern for your fellow human.

Well, that was unimpressive. That I blew right past the suffering of this poor, overstretched woman and went right to counting votes in North Carolina. Later, after the dinner dishes were washed, I snuck a peek at the news. The CNN headline: “Hillary Clinton Stumbles–Will Her Campaign Follow?” The Washington Post led with: “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the crassness of overshadowing the fifteenth anniversary of the nation-stopping tragedy of 9/11 with a breathless account of a respiratory illness and consider this: Just last week, the headlines were things like:  “Clinton Campaign Wants to Humanize Hillary” and “Hillary Clinton: Campaign Attempts to Humanize Her Again.” The worst of this batch came during the Democratic Convention: “Bill Clinton Praises His Wife’s Feminine Side.” Ok, ick. And from the New York Times no less.

But here’s a news flash for all of us—members of press and members of the public alike—humans live in bodies. Humans are bodies. There is nothing more humanizing than having a head cold. No matter how hard we struggle and argue that we “don’t have time to be sick,” we don’t have a choice. We shiver and sneeze and cough until the coronaviruses run their course and decide they are done with us.

These presidential campaigns are brutal. They are inhumane. They are—indeed—unhuman in some very fundamental and creepy way. And we hate them for it. We hate the poll-tested messages, the spin rooms, the inaccessibility and craven manipulation of the electorate. We hate the size, the scale. We hate the money and the advertising. We hate the glitz and the confetti and the phony carnival of the balloon drop.

And we should. Somehow, in the deep recesses of our cynical hearts, we do know that a government of the people, by the people, for the people requires actual people. And people come with all the inconvenient frailties of the mortal, animal bodies that we’re born into. That includes head colds and menstrual cramps and poor eyesight and foggy thinking when we’re exhausted.

Of course, we can’t talk about this without taking note of the skin-crawingly gendered nature this conversation. We love to use women’s bodies—in all their glorious humanness—to question and marginalize and cast doubt on the competence of their (our) minds.(I’m thinking about Hillary Clinton’s dash to the podium after using the ladies room in an otherwise all-male debate.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched enough West Wing to know that it’s a bad idea for presidential candidates to cover up major, chronic health issues. But Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia is a chance—among many—for us to take a breath and re-set. We say we want authentic candidates—and elected officials—who represent us and who understand what we’re going through out here in the provinces as we muddle through our days sleep-deprived and rumpled and plagued by head colds. That said, though, we have to grow up. We can’t have it all. We can’t have the perfectly polished, elegantly coiffed, gaffe-less candidate who is also authentic and empathetic and real.  Real is real. And sometimes real gets a nasty case of pneumonia.

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tangled-cords

I hope my daughters will remember the sweet times – the family trip to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, the time I let them stay up until midnight in the middle of the week to play in the snow, the evenings spent carving pumpkins and decorating the Christmas trees.  Breakfasts and dinners and car rides full of music and silly talk. I am acutely aware that our days of sleeping and rising under the same roof are numbered, and I want them to have those tender days to call on when they’re far away and lonely or scared or wondering who they are.

Yesterday was not one of those days. It was not—shall we say—one of my finer hours in parenting. I was up at 4:30 a.m., rushing, rushing.  Making breakfast, packing lunches. Reminding: tap shoes, physics assignment, overdue library book. Reminding again when I found the tap shoes on the kitchen counter. Dog walking and feeding. Then driving. One daughter to school, then home, then the other. Driving. To work, 15 minutes late.  Apologizing for being late. Apologizing in the next meeting because the first one ran 15 minutes late. Then emailing, talking on the phone, meeting.  Looking up, leaving work 15 minutes late to pick up the small daughter. Apologizing for being late. Driving. Cooking dinner.  Reminding: homework, piano practice, permission slips.

Then, about the time the dishes were all in the dishwasher, I asked one of my daughters a question about her plans for the next day. She didn’t answer because she was playing a game on her device. The other one was watching YouTube on my device.  I asked again.  She didn’t answer again. That is when the wheels came off.

I went on a rampage that started with “you are disrespectful of me” and ended with “the future of the Republic is in jeopardy.” I covered all the bases—mind-rot, phones compromising relationships, precious and finite hours being spent on stultifying entertainment, corporate control over the imagination, and the downfall of a nation rendered too stupid to govern itself.

Mama, my older daughter said, It’s just a game.  That gave me an opportunity to rev up all over again, but by that point I was losing steam, so I just walked into the other room and burst into tears.

Eventually I apologized for going berserk. And so did they for not listening. But I can’t stop thinking about it.  Not really the disagreement between me and them.  I think we’re ok. They know that once in a while I go bat-crazy and that it’s not really an indictment of their character or a predictor of their future success. But it did open my eyes to what I think about our lives, and by that I mean all of our lives, not just my family’s.

It’s all just too much – too much work, too much school, too many activities, too many forms to fill out. Too much friggin driving. All of it.  It’s out of human scale, it defies the realities of time. And yet we keep doing it, and we keep expecting our kids to do it. And then, we’re surprised when they want to spend their evenings plugged into some kind of pre-tested, numbed-out entertainment. They don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re not rushing around, and they’re bone-tired to boot.  No wonder they want to listen to moronic teenagers shout at each other on YouTube. No wonder they don’t answer when we ask them about their Spanish tests. No wonder.

I do regret yelling at my daughters and demonstrating a particular fierce brand of crazy. But I somehow I don’t want them to forget it. Somehow, I want us to keeping thinking about it, to keep fighting back. When they are alone at night in their own apartments—someday all too soon—I want them to ask themselves how they want to live. I want them to ask themselves whether the country is going to hell in a handbasket and whether YouTubers are leading the way.

 

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