My 9-year-old stands with her underwear pulled up to just underneath her little sports bra. She looks like a little Wonder Woman with untidy hair. Her dad has just told her she needs to stop pulling her underwear up to her armpits and instead put a robe or pjs on.
“You don’t get to tell me what to do with my body!” is my daughter’s retort of choice. “Only I get to decide about MY body.”
I’m proud of her, but her standing up for her rights also gives me a familiar twinge of guilt that I didn’t bring my daughter to the Women’s March to rally for those rights. Nor did we go to the recent Moms Demand Action Meeting, or get involved in the rally outside my Congressman’s office. I feel guilt reading about yet another recent shooting — and not bringing my daughter to a protest against gun violence. I feel guilty that the only action I took was writing my representatives.
My life, right now, is a constant tornado of guilt.
Don’t worry; I still have traditional mom guilt too, of course. I have to make sure we have 20 minutes of reading a night, we have math to look over and review, we have to eat supper, there are showers, and there are the random questions about monkeys going to space that take us into endless conversations. I lose my patience after a long day of work doing these “mom duties” that I want to enjoy, but I’m too tired to.
Then, I have the added guilt of a person that deeply cares about the (currently abysmal) status of our country. I no longer believe that someone else will fix it if I don’t take action. I have become more interested in volunteering, and yet as the interest goes up, I watch my stamina go down.
In theory I very much want to teach my daughter, through experience, the beauty of demonstrations for the sake of democracy. In reality, I have the plague that my kids caught at school this week, and I’m afraid to move too far away from the bathroom. In theory I want to bring my girls to the Moms Demand Action meeting because I believe in what they are doing and want to show my kids how powerful organizing and exchanging ideas can be. In reality, there was a lice scare this week and I’m busy rewashing every stuffed animal, bed sheet and hairbrush. In theory I want to go to the office of my Representative tomorrow to show my daughters how we remind our politicians that they work for us. In reality, tomorrow may be my only chance for awhile to take the girls to visit my parents — and they really want to see their grandparents. The list goes on.
The political guilt sits in my gut. It cuddles up to the mom guilt, and they trade barbs about which one I’m failing more. Sometimes I realize that these two forms of guilt aren’t mutually exclusive. When I fail to teach civics, I also fail to show my kids the tools to be an adult — which is, after all, the main goal of parenting.
Then there are days like today, when I see my daughter standing tall with her underwear up to her chin, telling her father that she knows her body belongs to her, and standing proud.
In these brief moments, the guilt subsides, and I let myself be proud of the work I’ve done. I see that I haven’t gotten to fight publicly, but I have been teaching lessons in my house. I teach lessons of equality and lessons of confidence. I wish I were doing it at marches and rallies, but I’m not able to do that right now.
For those on the outside, it may appear that my days are spent idle. I haven’t made the splash that I want to in fighting what I see as the dissolution of decency and the rollback of equality. I’ve been frustrated with my inability to focus on enough things to make a difference. I feel small and ineffective in a world that keeps dragging out the worst in people. And, yes, the guilt seeps in.
But today, I finally see something that I hadn’t before. Here in my living room, I see that I’m cultivating the change. Please be patient with me while I build my kids up to fight the good fight. And maybe I can give myself a break, too. I don’t have the endurance to do all that needs to be done right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything.