On Secrets, Silence & #MeToo
It's Friday morning. A bit before 8am. Not long ago, I shuffled my little girls onto the school bus. They're not so little anymore. My middle babe just turned 9 yesterday. This is both hard to believe and just as it should be. Time is passing; we are all growing and growing up.
Her birthday was simple and special. Gifts and homemade cards and a giant 9 balloon. Rainbow Italian ices with her class and Grammy's famous stuffed potatoes and a big pink cake. Last night, she slept next to me in bed as she has all week because my husband has been in Europe for work and we have sleepovers when he travels. Before nodding off, she cuddled up to me and talked and talked. And I just listened. About regular third grade fare. Box ball on the roof. Friendship stuff. And now: a boy with a crush. From the chaise where my tiniest babe was tucked in (she is 6), she also announced that a boy has a crush on her, that he told her yesterday. My oldest daughter, pushing 11, hovered at my bedside before retiring to her own room. She's outgrown our sleepovers and prefers her bed. Remember X? I think he had a crush. He was always poking my back.
I listened. I kept listening, their voices weaving in the evening air. I asked questions and we laughed and it was all kind of beautiful and it hit me that we are entering new territory, my husband and I. Our girls are growing. They are growing up.
And as this happens, I'm full of new questions. New concerns. How do I talk to them about the attention they are already getting from boys, attention that is more often than not sweet and innocent, but sometimes not? What do I say and do when a boy says or does something precociously lewd? What I do is: listen. What I say is: That is not okay. We navigate it together. I help them find their voice.
But what if I am still finding mine? What if I, at the ripe young age of 39, still do not know when to speak and when to stay silent? What if I wake up one day, say a Friday in October, and realize that I have been playing it safe in many ways, holding important stuff in, silencing certain of my own blurry stories and memories and truths? What if scenes flash in my tired head? Scenes more and less harrowing.
Of a male law partner taking young associate me for dinner at a nice restaurant on a business trip, pouring wine and telling me intimate details about his marital woes.
Of a boy, a friend, reaching his hands between my legs in the backseat of a New York taxi cab.
Of a confused and lonely trip to campus health after a drunken night and a broken condom.
The latter two: admittedly booze-soaked scenarios of unclear, muddled consent, where I ultimately minimized, where, if anything, I blamed myself, where I tucked it all away as what happens sometimes, as not as bad as other things that could have happened. Know that writing just these shreds makes me quake. In the quaking, I feel my voice shrinking.
This is what happens.
This is what cannot happen.
What I am seeing now, not only in the news about Harvey Weinstein and all the other harveys, not only in the heartbreaking flood of #metoos on my various feeds, but also in the context of my own real world, is that there are so many stories and secrets, so much silence. The stories and secrets we women (and men) carry (and numb - hello, drinking) range in size and importance. There are small things and bigger ones. Some that linger with a benign, lazy insistence, pieces of a puzzle to maybe do later. But some that flash neon in our minds, desperate, tantruming for articulation, for air.
We all have stuff we are keeping in. All of us.
But what happens when we play nice and keep it in? What happens to us, the keepers of the stories and of the secrets, and to our little girls and big girls and little boys and big boys, to the culture we all live in and love in, a culture that carries on and shapes itself in part according to what we say and what we do - and also according to what we do not say and do not do?
I sit here in my beautiful home sipping my morning coffee and for the most part, I feel grateful and hopeful. I believe I have a modicum of perspective. Despite real stresses in my life - my mom has been unwell, I lost my beloved Dad almost a decade ago, I am watching people I love struggle and profoundly with various things - I enjoy many privileges and there is so much to be thankful for.
I know this; I feel it.
And yet. There are new questions, new concerns. There are three bright, beautiful girls to bring up in this ailing world, to talk to, to listen to, to guide, to empower. And that's what I will keep doing, what we will keep doing. This is perhaps our most important job. And we will stumble and fumble to be sure, but we will also succeed. We must.
First though: the continued work of opening my own eyes to what has happened and what is happening around me, of using my own good mind to think hard and creatively about the problems we all face. The continued, imperative work of finding my own particular voice and of re-finding it when it is lost. The continued work of speaking and writing and asking and challenging and not worrying so much about what people might think. Let them think.
Now is not the time to play it safe. All of us owe it to ourselves, to our girls - and to our men and our boys too - to speak up, to make sense of and share the stories and secrets that have been shaking us and making us, to end what has been a pervasive and sinister silence.
Here I go.
Do you have stories or secrets you've been keeping?
Do you have concerns about raising girls (or boys) in this culture and climate?