Since we’ve been in Boston recently, we’ve spent a lot of time with my ex’s family. It’s great for the girls to once again have a feeling of community in their lives, and to be loved on by people who remind them of my own mother and siblings. And here comes the BUT: Their parenting ideals. Their beliefs about children. Their insistence on using fear and intimidation to control children, as I myself once did. This notion they often have that a cry or a whine, from a small child, is generally unnecessary. And then here I am with Logan. She whines, she cries, she still breastfeeds, I still wear her. They tell her to her face that she’s a baby and that babies won’t grow up. I of course use these moments as opportunities to enlighten them, but it hardly ever gets through. Ryleigh has been witnessing all this and asking a lot of questions. She speaks up for her sister so well. Over the weekend, she really surprised me.
We were at her grandfather’s house with my children and my sister-in-law’s children (I don’t call my in-law’s ‘ex’, probably never will – love them, known them so long). The youngest, Marcellus, whom we call simply M, is two years old. He loves being held. When I babysit him he toddles over to me and extends his tiny arms (he’s soooo short!) and gives me great big eyes and a smile. My in-laws sometimes tell me to not pick him up! They say leave him, he doesn’t need to be babied. What do I do? Well I bend my back and reach my arms out and take that baby into them, bring him to my chest, hug him, and whisper into his chubby cheeks. He looks into my eyes and smiles, and sometimes even kisses me. That’s all he wants. So what, he wants to be babied?
Ryleigh’s grandfather was having none of it. He got so upset with Ryleigh for holding M that he yelled at her. He actually said that he wasn’t going to let Ryleigh and me be responsible for making M gay. I had no words. I almost cried. What a sad message to send to all the children there, that we shouldn’t hold baby boys and show them affection for fear of them becoming homosexual – a sad message on many levels. I tried to stay as calm as possible and said right there, “Mr. S, I absolutely don’t believe that and I don’t think Ryleigh does.” Ryleigh again went to hold M, because he still wanted her to, and her grandfather stood up and yelled for her to put him down.
Ryleigh looked her grandfather in the eye, I could see she was hurt and nervous, but she said it: “Children have rights, Granddad, even boys!” Then she ran out and locked herself in the bathroom and cried. I knew how she felt. She was hurt that M was being denied affection because of his age and his gender; she was hurt that her granddad held such silly, baseless beliefs; she was hurt to think of what it would feel like to ask someone to hug you and be told no for no reason (or for the dumbest reason in the history of the planet and all the galaxies and civilization); and, mostly, she was hurt that there was nothing she could do.
I went to Ry and hugged her and told her she’d done the right thing. Her grandfather came out and, to let her know he wasn’t sorry for what he’d said, told her he wasn’t trying to make ‘friends’ with his grandchildren. I was flattened and ready to go.
We left and Ry and I discussed it. I’M WRITING THIS IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I AM SO FLIPPING OUTRAGED THAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW I’M SCREAMING. I TOLD RYLEIGH THE REASON BEHIND HER GRANDFATHER’S WORDS: IGNORANCE. Plain and simple. Ignorance. Ignorant thinking, ignorant behavior, ignorant words. Not that her grandfather is ignorant, but that this line of thinking is. I told her how proud I was of her for how she’s really starting to speak up for younger children. It so surprised me – as I’ve been on this journey, she’s been with me; but I guess I didn’t totally realize it. She’s learning just like I am. She agrees when I tell her that she has a right to demand anything she needs from me. She loves the security that comes with knowing I endeavor to keep her love cup full, not on my terms, not in a way that works for me or that I think will keep something like being gay from happening to her – but however she needs me to do it.
What’s more, since I’ve started to treat her so much better as a person, she desires that for all children. Isn’t that the goal of peaceful parenting? I mean of course we do it for the benefit of our own babies, but don’t we also do it so that they will be able to go out and treat others well? How often do we participate in threads chock full of comments such as, “My parents loved me but they just didn’t know any better…I don’t want that for my children”? Aren’t we trying our damnedest to raise children who will say we loved them and we showed it, we knew how to show it, we learned how to show it, we fought through exhaustion and sleep deprivation and stress and sickness to show it? I am. Because those are the children who will fight to show love, against odds. I want Ryleigh to fight to show love even when someone mistreats her, or when she doesn’t understand them, or when she’s maybe not feeling so well herself - I want her to appreciate the healing power of loving someone else, for who they are.
And recently Ryleigh, my skinny little chicken with her head always in a book, has shown me – I’m doing it. She is not content to sit by and watch children being mistreated, especially by those who love them. She sees it as I do; not “Hey I’m better than you so I know this…”, but, “Hey, we both love these children so let’s talk about some loving options to this COCKAMAMIE BALDERDASH YOU JUST SPEWED FROM YOUR MOUTH.” (I may have paraphrased her feelings right there.) She is so passionate about the right all children have to be loved that it makes her cry. Good for her. Good for all of our children.
I’ve told Ryleigh not to stop. Not to feel ashamed that she cried. That the little boys and girls who cry over children today are the forces to be reckoned with tomorrow, the ones marching and plastering signs on cars and dropping cards into books and starting petitions and sharing on Facebook pages and rocking it. For children. Because there are some well-intentioned, IGNORANT-MINDED people out there, with some awfully dangerous ideas about how babies and children should be treated. And the babies and children aren’t always able to speak up.
We are able, and therefore we must. That’s what I told Ryleigh. She agrees.
I think, maybe someday, that this girl’s going to march.