This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.
The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.
When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.
In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”
We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.
This has been a really busy week with work and events with the kids. Usually I go to the gym or for a walk every day, but due to the packed schedule, I haven’t done so since Monday, opting instead for some stretching at home. By this morning, my legs we aching to move. Outside, it’s been alternating between a downpour and a steady rain all morning, but I didn’t have time to get to the gym between meetings, so I grabbed my husband’s baseball hat to keep the rain out of my eyes and set out on a walk.
* * * * *
As my arms glistened with raindrops, I felt the comfort of having listened to my body. When what I needed most was rest, I rested. When what I needed most was a walk, I walked.
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Caring for our bodies is a struggle for many (most?) women. We exist in a society where our bodies are aberrations to be controlled, not lives to be loved. I’ve been fighting through this for a long, long time. Three years ago, having gained some weight after starting a new medication, I did something radical: I stopped weighing my self at home. I had been taking baby steps into radical body acceptance, and this was a giant leap. I had come to believe that if I could slip out from under the shame of weight, I would actually become healthier. I also believed that would probably end up helping me lose weight, as my body naturally settled into its organically set weight.
About two months after I had stopped weighing myself, I went to a doctor’s appointment. When I stepped on the scale, I saw that I had gained three pounds. That was not what I was expecting.
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I still believe – now more than ever, in fact – that radical body acceptance is a path to a healthy self, including body, and my views on the correlation between weight and health have evolved. But that’s another post – the point of this one is that when I stepped off the doctor’s scale, I made a choice to keep accepting my self. And that led me to walking in the summer rain three years later.
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This spring, I spent several weeks talking with my therapist about how I could feel more secure in relationships. How do we make our peace with the fact that no one will ever understand completely how it feels to live in our skin? It feels so lonely. Who can I “come home” to, resting in unconditional connection and attachment?
Me. Each of us is the only one who can provide that depth of acceptance to our selves. I remember looking out the window of my therapist’s office, and it crystalizing for me how closely linked this aching need for not-being-alone is to acceptance of my body. My body, a battleground of not being good enough. Some thing from which I had to dis-connect, in order to find (superficial) connection with others, to be treated better by them. If I could accept my body, I could accept anything about my self. My self could live at ease, knowing I will not betray her. I will not hurt her. I will protect her as lovingly as I protect my children.
When I am tired, I will rest. When I need to walk, I will walk. I will treat my body with the gentlest of care and respect.
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nayyirah waheed said:
“be softer with you.
you are a breathing thing.
a memory to someone.
a home to a life.”
The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)
As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.
A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.
There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.
That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.
And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.
After getting a master’s in international relations, I started my career, supporting a campaign to end the genocide in Darfur. Then I helped create a nonprofit that partnered with locally-led initiatives in Rwanda to provide job training and education.
One of the things I observed while I was doing this work was how fiercely African mamas worked to take care of their families and others in their community. I use mama in a broad sense: all the women who nurture, from biological mothers to young women who, as teenagers, took in smaller children after the Rwandan genocide and raised them. I felt a conviction, for lack of a better word, that the most powerful, most influential thing anyone could ever do was take care of their closest community, starting with their selves and their families, and moving out in an ever-widening circle of compassion.
This shift in the way I was thinking about my work happened at the same time that I was, unexpectedly, becoming a biological mother myself. In several different ways, I moved from my “big” work to the very immediate work of growing a child.
Continuing to create my life – including my career – in the years since has been a sometimes pain-staking process that has required a lot of grace (from my self to my self) and patience and trusting that if I take a step, the path will appear. I still have to trust that, every day. I want to make the world a better place. I also want to be there to pick my daughter up from the bus stop in the afternoon. The meta shift in my thinking about what it means to serve my community exists alongside the real-life practice of caring for my family.
I took this photo at a conference I attended this week, to look back on as a reminder that, as difficult and scary as it can be trying to create one’s own path of career and parenting, I am incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to do what I love most, which is: first, to love on my babies, and second, to build stronger communities through health and education access.
The topic of this education conference is the Future of Work. I hope to support educators preparing young people for meaningful, self-sustaining careers that allow them to be their best selves and take care of their families and communities. We all deserve that.
This poem has been on my mind this week, as I did something hard, the consequences of which could not be completely foreseen. But I did it for the same reason a caged bird sings. I did it because it was the only thing I could do. I had to open the door.
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.
I had been planning on taking my girls to the March for Our Lives in Charlottesville yesterday. On Friday night, I talked with them about what the march was about. I told the little one that there were too many guns, and we want people to not have so many guns, especially the kind that can hurt people the most. I told the older one that the right to bear arms is in the Bill of Rights, but in the context of a well-regulated militia and arms that fired at much slower speeds than arms today. I told her that her right to be alive is far more sacred. We talked about how we are asking for better regulations of guns and enforcement of regulations. Extensive and ongoing training and practice should be required for every gun owner, and we discussed that.
As we talked, my nine-year-old’s eyes were growing wider. “Mom, what if there are people with guns at the march? This is going to make them mad. What if they start shooting?”
My oldest is generally fearless. She was the toddler that made all the other moms at the playground hold their breath with how high she would climb. She has, of her own initiative, asked strangers if they will please donate to the SPCA or Dancers for Dance.
Guns can take our children’s lives in more than one way.
What I didn’t tell Emma was that I felt safer taking her to the march than I did dropping her off at school. Instead, I listened, and I told her that we didn’t have to go. That I’m glad she’s listening to her inner self and how she feels. There are times to teach children to do things that feel scary, but at age 9 when their life really is on the line, isn’t one of them, at least not for us.
I am in awe of and encouraged by the young people who led and participated in the March for Our Lives yesterday, across the country. And I am sad that they have to march at all. I wonder how many children would like to march but are, justifiably, too afraid to do so. We certainly can’t tell them their fears are unfounded. We want them to live to be old enough to vote out of office anyone who thinks the right to bear arms is an unfettered right triumphant over all others.
The girls and I still made signs, and we hung them on our front door. We talked about other things we can do to support common sense gun reform, such as donating to groups like Everytown and Americans for a Responsible Solutions, which are able to research, produce information about good policy, and lobby for it.
Because kids are more important than guns. Life is more important than guns, and with the current lack of sufficient regulation and requirements for training and practice, guns are far more likely to kill us than keep us safe.
This evening, a wellness policy that prohibits taking away recess as punishment will be presented to the Charlottesville City School Board. The board will vote on the policy at their next meeting on September 7.
While I was not able to attend the SHAB meeting last month when the final draft of the policy was discussed, I spoke with Patrick by email and phone after the meeting. I am very pleased with the wellness policy that is going to be presented tonight. I think it best to wait until it is presented to the board to discuss the details, but I can say now that it states explicitly that recess will not be withheld as punishment. The policy also addresses the issue of weighing students. I believe it does so in a way that is clear and empowering for students and their families.
I look forward to writing more about the policy after tonight’s board meeting. As long as it seems appropriate at the time, which I think it will, I am going to live tweet the presentation of the policy to the board and the board’s response. You can follow along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_v_bennett.
What this campaign needs from its numerous supporters: can you mark September 7 on your calendars and show up to the school board meeting that evening? There is a time at the beginning of meetings for community members to speak for three minutes. It would be wonderful if the board could hear from other parents who want them to pass the wellness policy. If you can’t show up in person, please consider writing to the board members and our superintendent, Dr. Rosa Atkins. I am pasting below their email addresses.
Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.