Happy Birthday! I was getting ready for this day, thinking of you and what to get you. I cam up with the Collected Works of ee cummings which will be released on July 12th, which made me grateful that you don’t mind waiting a little bit for your birthday present, as usual. And, as I was thinking of you and reading the news about how Hillary Clinton seems to have clinched the Democratic Nomination for President, I thought to myself, it’s all over. The glass ceiling has broken. And, of course it hasn’t, just as the racists came out in force when Obama was elected, so will the misogynists come out for Hillary. But, like maggots exposed to sun, the racisms and sexism, exposed to light, will eventually whither and die, I believe. Or at least I hope. I didn’t think I was that invested in this election. I love neither Bernie nor Hillary like I love Obama. They are not in my heart like he is. But I was near tears, thinking, 56 elections, only 23 in which women could vote, and this is the first time a woman has been nominated to run for president. And, as I thought to myself, “we did it,” I meant, in a lot of ways, that you did it, mom.
There were the overt ways you made sure me and Paige and Valerie knew we could achieve whatever we set out to achieve. The shirt you bought me that read, “Anything Boys Can Do Girls Can Do Better.” Maybe it was a little “neener neener” but I never played four-square better than when I wore that shirt.
Yesterday, Max and Zoe were playing baseball with Erik in the backyard. Zoe can hit like mad. I wasn’t as good as she at sports but that never stopped you and dad from enrolling me in t-ball and softball and Paige and Val in soccer. You played catch with us in the backyard. You took me to fancy dinners when I swam hard and when I got good grades. You made me mow the lawn, like any regular son.
You were on the board of League of Women Voters. You hosted book clubs where mainly women authors were read. You watched Connie Chung on the Nightly News. Murphy Brown on Prime Time. You bought me a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. You let me choose what college to go to. You never once let me think I wouldn’t go to college or grad school or get a job or be a professor or write books.
You pointed out injustices. Friends of yours whose husbands divorced them, left them broke. You made it clear that no matter how tough I felt I had it, I had two parents growing up and plenty of food and clothes. You made it clear from your own mother and grandmother’s experience that poverty is often a mom and kid problem and that feminism meant working to raise everyone up. Feeding your kids took all of your time and most of your attention. You also made it clear that even though there was injustice and too much work, there was time to dance and sing. Remember the time we painted great-grandma’s house? You and me and Paige and Val, my cousins and Aunt Sue. We all know the lyrics to “Baby, you can’t love one.”
So, it’s not like it’s all over. There’s work to be done for everyone. But mom, you were a big part of making it clear how to understand what it means to be a woman. I am on the lookout for injustice but I’m also noticing that I am part of the singing and dancing world. You made me believe I could have kids and raise a boy and a girl to each believe they were equal in each other’s eyes. You made me think I could rise up as far as I wanted, even as far as Hillary Clinton, if I so wanted.
The world’s perception has shifted. It’s not just tokenism or chance that made it possible for a woman to get this far. It’s people like you, who, although raised in a patriarchal culture that presumed your role was to support a man, thought differently. You have a lot of opinions. You don’t mind making them known. You worked so hard to give me and Paige and Val extraordinary lives. It’s thanks, in part to you, that we are living in extraordinary times.