Half-Way Grown: Happy Ninth Birthday, Maddie

Dear Miss Maddie,

This year’s (quite late, sorry!) birthday letter is going to be a bit more serious than most, but we as a world are finding ourselves in an increasingly serious time.  I hope that when you read this, the divisive instability and disparate visions for a way forward that have marked the last several years will have concluded–I hope you do not inherit the world some seem hellbent on creating for you– a world of inequality, xenophobia, and greed–but currently…the world feels very dark.  Violent, cruel, and unapologetically so.  Sometimes, late at night when all of my various worries, insecurities, regrets, and uncertainties surface, I can feel my heart-rate jump, afraid of what we may be building for you, terrified that I have not done all I could to stop it.  I fear that I may be guilty by association, by complacency, because I lack the courage to take part in a more dynamic way.  In short, often lately I feel like the world is falling apart, and I do not know what to do.  All attempts to address the situation feel inadequate–too small, too narrow, lacking in the appropriate knowledge and just as likely to offend someone as to be helpful.

But…I also do believe there are small ways to make a difference.  Life is not made of grand gestures.  Sometimes, it’s honestly as simple as your dad vacuuming the bedroom after work instead of messing about on his phone for 20 minutes before dinner.  There are small ways to let people know that you see them, you hear them, you support them.  There are small ways to let people know what you stand for, what you stand against, what you believe.

First, always ask WHY, especially is someone if giving you some 1950s nonsense about tradition or that’s-just-the-way-it-is or telling you it’s just easier this way.  No.  WHY?  Is it easier to split a classroom into boys and girls?  Probably.  But WHY?  Being easier does not make it better.  (In fact, it fully reinforces the idea that men and women are so separate and different that they can’t possibly work together, reaffirms gender-roles and stereotypes, and probably also feeds into the idea of women as objects or “other.”)  Always ask WHY a thing is the way it is.  If someone can give you a credible explanation for a process, then fine.  But if the answer is only that’s it’s simpler, saves time, or has always been?  Nope.  I smell some cowpoo there.  (I have no idea what your feelings on “foul” language are as you’re reading this, but at the time I’m writing it, you’re really hung up on the idea that I should not curse in front of you.  It’s something we’re…working through.)  This applies to yourself, too.  Even though your generation is going to grow up light years away from that of your great-grandparents (or even grandparents) in terms of what’s socially acceptable, etc., it’s important to examine your own belief system from time to time, to make sure you don’t have some that’s-just-the-way-it-is in there somewhere, too.  Honestly, having to explain things to your and your sister has sometimes caused me to really think through a few things (why is it okay for men to run without their shirts on but not women?  Not that I want to because boob-sweat is a real thing, but if we can’t, then maybe they shouldn’t be able to either.), and I’m honestly very curious to see what notions my generation carries forward that yours will find completely incomprehensible and intolerant.

Try on a lot of other people’s shoes.  Not literally, and no, that fact that mine are about a half size from fitting your feet is not an excuse leavemyheelsalonelady!, but before you rush to judgement, try, just for a minute, to put yourself in that position.  This one is really hard–I sometimes have a lot of trouble with it, too–but it’s essential to not being a total and utter jackhole.  Also, always remember that you never know exactly what’s going on in someone else’s life.  You don’t.  Try not to assume, try to be open-minded.

Resist the urge to stereotype.  People who have one characteristic in common are not all the same.  Don’t make or laugh at racist jokes.  Don’t make or laugh at sexist jokes.  Don’t joke about a generalized culture or religion.  While it may be funny to YOU (which, I hope we raised you better…) and the people around you, it’s dehumanizing to the targeted group, and you need to be better than that.  Because behind every joke is a person.  Not a caricature, not a cartoon, a person.  You want to make fun of yourself, go for it.  You want to make fun your group, go for it.  Tell all the jokes about white girls you want.  But that’s the line.  Also, in full disclosure, I have in my life been guilty of both the things I told you not to do.  I’m not proud of it.  Sometimes, you need a reminder to be better again.  It’s your job to be better than me.  It’s your generation’s job to be better than mine.

Check your sources.  Especially now, in the age of everyone-on-the-internet-is-an-idiot-with-an-agenda, make sure anything you decide to believe is coming from a reputable source.  Ignore click-bait, even the sites that seem to agree with you.  Research the fact-checking policies of the news sites you visit.  Read news articles from organizations outside of your own country.  They often have a much more objective, unbiased view than any others.  Basically, believe nothing until it’s been reported by at least three reputable sources.  Fake news is a real thing, but it’s not what the man who coined the phrase would have you believe.  Fake news is propaganda.  It’s fear-mongering in motion.  It’s double-speak and coded language and creating chaos in one corner of the internet in order to draw attention away from a much larger issue.  Fake news is lying about lying.  Which shouldn’t even be a thing, and we don’t let four-year-olds get away with that crap, but this is 2017 and…well.

Vote.  That one’s simple and unquestionable.  If you can, vote.  Take your voting friends with you.  Have a voting party.  Tell everyone you know that you’re voting, encourage them to vote, high-five them when they do.  Wear the darn sticker everywhere you go that day.  Vote, vote, vote, and then vote some more.

There’s a lot more I could say, a lot more I will say probably in person.  However, this is quite possibly one of my longest posts ever, and I feel bad that your birthday letter is so…heavy this year.  My heart is heavy this year.  You, however, make it lighter.  I put this in writing so you’ll have it down the line, so if you’re feeling adrift, maybe it will provide some direction.  I also put it here knowing you don’t need it.  You are smart enough to figure this out on your own.  Your generation, at least your part of your generation will be better than mine.  You are sincere and you are discerning and most of all you are KIND.  You, are not a jackhole.  You may be one of the two things I’ve done “okay” at, and while I’m truly sorry you’re growing up in a world that is such a mess at present, I don’t doubt for a second you’ll do your best to make it better, in whatever way you can.  You make me proud.

Seems appropriate for my somewhat political, socially-charged missive. And no, I don’t know what your sister is doing in this pic either…

Happy birthday, big girl.  We love you so much!  And I promise something lighter next year.  🙂

Love always,