You can remember what someone looked like, how something tasted or felt, but you don’t remember a smell until it hits your sensory receptors like a static electric shock.
So there’s me, today, at Costco making my way towards the bread. The store’s just opened, air’s blasting through the bakery with a hint of cinnamon hitching a ride, and when it hits me I’m dropped back in time, short little kid me, opening the door to the Greencastle Ruritan’s kitchen to find my grandmother and her friends preparing food for an event. Maybe it was an estate auction, or an extended family reunion, or a distant relative’s funeral. It didn’t matter if the occasion that brought my family to the community center was a celebration, a sale, or a mourning, it meant I’d get to see my grandmother and play with my cousins in a side room where kids wouldn’t bother the adults.
That’s how I came to be the lady crying over pies at Costco. For a moment I remembered how life used to be, who used to be in it. My toddler daughter looked at me from her seat in the cart and I realized she and my son are at the age where these very same kind of memories are being formed. I told her what I was feeling, kissed her on the forward and then blew air in her hair she she’d squeal and laugh and push me away.
And then I bought a giant bag of Halloween candy and everything was right again in the world.
Adjectives. Remember learning about those in elementary school? We are a diverse collection of humans who employ countless adjectives to describe ourselves. Each one important yet unable to represent all that we are. To name a person as solely an adjective is to deny their humanity.
That’s why “she is a transgendered woman” is acceptable, but “she is a transgender” is not. “The black community” works, but “the blacks” makes you sound intolerable (looking at you, big Donny J. Trump).
If you find yourself in need of a label and not sure what to use, remember we all start as people.
My sweet, generous son always wants to play the villain. “I’m gonna be the bad guy,” he says before a game of make-believe. And why not? One thing reading all those simplified stories in children’s books has reinforced for me is that villains have the better backstories. The good guy is good just because that’s what he is; good never seems to need an explanation. The bad guy needs a reason to be bad. We must know
My son’s favorite villain, Bobgoblin from Wallykazam
what went wrong and turned him that way. It’s kind of nice because it presupposes that every one starts out good, but it also means villains are more complex and therefore interesting characters. It’s why I always prefer the second of three acts, because the villain having it their way is supremely more entertaining. I understood this before I was old enough to describe it. That’s why studying stories comes so naturally for so many of us. Even as toddlers we can see how they’re made.
When a national organization for gun violence prevention retweeted a pic of my baby and me at a Labor Day rally, gun fetishists trolled me for a few hours. Their common talking point – I was “indoctrinating” my child. My reply: teaching my children to be politically active is called “parenting.”
If ever you find yourself in a philosophical position where the most logical argument against an opponent is to claim they should not teach their own beliefs to their own children…well, you should probably step away from the keyboard and meditate or take the dog for a walk or wash a load of dishes or rub oil ever so lovingly on your most favorite gun.
In my catty Twitter exchanges I considered calling it “patriotic parenting.” But I shied away because I often feel “patriot” has been co-opted by a certain ideology with which I don’t wish to be associated.
But what could be more patriotic than showing up for a cause you care about? Spending your leisure time working with our country’s political structure to make laws and policies that align more with those beliefs is exactly what our country calls for, what it needs.
So yeah, I’m a parent, an activist, and a fucking patriot.