2013-03-20

a girl and a boy in this world: essay


we are raising a little girl and a little boy.

at my current age, my mother had a daughter in the upper years of college (me), a daughter in high school and a son finishing middle school. both my parents lost their young mothers at young ages, 21 and 17 respectively. the deaths of my grandmothers were unbearable to my parents and rightly so, they were still kids. today in american society, these are ages we now still consider to be childhood in slow transition to adulthood. my mother and father both had much younger siblings who were motherless, and my parents did their best to take care of them, to keep them close.

i showed up about ten months after the death of my maternal grandmother. she was 46. as a toddler, i was aware of my parent's deep grief and the presence of loss within my immediate family. yet as my parents struggled with responsibilities to their extended families they did their best to ensure that we did not bear any of their weight. they provided us with abundant love, opportunity and most importantly: a childhood that was rich in sight, sound, color and imagination. if we knew what was going on in their thoughts as they privately mourned or during the turbulent 70's it was because we were sensitive to the vibe in our environments and had an innate sense of empathy. they also talked to us in honest terms. we were happy.

i think about this time often, because it was also my time to be a little girl. kids are like sieves. environments flow right through them and build up slow layers of being. in the 70's in Brooklyn i could see the differences in women clearly via generational position. my italian great-grandmother continued to run her family real estate holdings and businesses after the death of my great-grandfather. she held Sunday dinner for her 10 children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. in this layering of family, women varied in experience coalesced around the table: mothers, college graduates, artists, professionals, young teenage girls thinking about co-educational college. they would talk about the things they had to do as girls that no longer applied, such as wear gloves with dresses, or only stay home and raise babies, or go to a women's college, or choose to be a nurse, secretary or school teacher. they would say i could be those things and so much more because the rules were changing. women had opportunity. as part of the first generation to grow up after 1968, without segregation, with civil rights, and with co-education at almost all major institutions, i thought they were right so i pursued all i could with the means we had and my own drive. the world has been open to me. but what about the details? what about the subtle stereotypes, resentment and disrespect that would linger? what about the overt battles that women are still facing over equity, violence protection and bodily boundaries? what would my generation of women teach their young boys and girls? i mean, if we are the first to grow up post-segregation, post-feminist (early) movement, post-modern, then surely we would see some subtler shifts in the treatment of women by the next few generations in leadership, in parenting, and in respect for our person-hood?

we are raising a little girl and a little boy.

we are busy with our professional pursuits and we have certainly had the burden of life changing struggles, yet we are careful to give them both a vibrant childhood that is rich in sight, sound, color and imagination. our love is abundant. when necessary, we explain things in ways they can understand and form opinions of their own without judgement from us. we shelter them appropriately and expose them to the world at the same time. when they ask, we listen. we are honest. we are not perfect and know that perfection is impossible. (that lesson came after children as we are always learning). in many ways we have slowed down to be present with them, not just for them.

it's not easy to be two highly artistic parents with children. those who make things in life know creativity at this level is not a part time job or just a full time job. so we include them in our ventures on their own terms. studio has a place for them in it when they want to be there. so far, it's working. they are great thinkers and makers. we learn from them. they pose questions.

when my son was born, i was already an established architect with awards, degrees and big projects under my belt. unlike my mother and father, my childhood was long. i had a "childhood" that lasted until the first time i held my son at 32 years of age. yet even as a new mother, i thought i could carry on a pace of bigness in work, baby in tow, perhaps have another child later. keep going at my super speed. do more. but that ended when i found out i would have a daughter 4 years later. i didn't understand what it meant to have two kids. i didn't understand that having two kids would alter the opinions about my dedication to a profession. but more importantly, i would soon raise a daughter and it delighted me and terrified me. why? because of the way she would be treated. because not much has changed since my mother first became an adult. because in order to get her voice heard, this girl of mine would have to speak louder and clearer and smarter and often go unheard. because, for example, today's media worries about the integrity of criminal teenager boys instead of the safety and life of the female victim of their violence.

our children do not focus so much on other kid's skin color, genders, illnesses, differences, insecurities, or variations in home life. yet, our son is slowly learning about the disparages against women, races and sexual orientation in the world as he grows and he is appalled. he is just 9 years of age and i am happy he talks to us about his observations. 

many mornings i wake thinking this: in light of current news, politics of the time, personal experiences, media, inequality, hate, retrograde fear and compassion, we are raising a little girl and a little boy. 


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