My social media feeds were flooded with Paris on Friday just like yours were, I’m sure. Messages of support and words of bewilderment, hope, and despair were sent traveling up my phone screen to make way for older posts and updates, as feed chronology dictates. In moments like these – when you know what’s on everyone else’s mind - so many of us experience a sense of connection to something larger - humanity, if you will, and pardon the cliché. It’s a pretty powerful feeling completely lost on some of us.
Amongst the Eiffel Tower as a peace sign and other frequently reoccurring memes there was one photograph that stood out to me, as I was checking my Instagram feed. It was a photograph with a night view of the Eiffel Tower. The accompanying caption spoke of a previous image that apparently earned this Instagrammer some significant backlash. It read:
People were complaining that my last photo discussing the paris (sic.) attacks was a selfie. If what you're worried about is what photo I post to talk about the paris attacks and not the attacks themselves then you are very small minded. That was the last photo I took before the attacks happened. It is a terrifying and emotional night for everyone here in paris, please only express good vibes and love. that is what we need right now.
Meet Lily Rose Depp, 16, Paris.
This was right before I left the house tonight to go to a party where all my friends are still locked inside waiting for this to be over. I'm so lucky to have left when i did and to be home safe but I've never seen more panic in my life than on the streets on my way home. This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking. Sending love and prayers to everyone anywhere near this danger. Stay inside #prayforparis
Lily Rose has a great sense of style, famous parents, and 1 million followers on Instagram some of whom have more important things to do on Instagram than read captions. They’d much rather educate (“you’re too skinny”) or preach (“this picture is not appropriate”). These were two of the mildest comments posted by criticis and addressing the 16 year-old's selfie.
The photograph combined with timing may indeed come across as tasteless if you don’t read the caption:
This was right before I left the house tonight to go to a party where all my friends are still locked inside waiting for this to be over. I'm so lucky to have left when i did and to be home safe but I've never seen more panic in my life than on the streets on my way home. This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking. Sending love and prayers to everyone anywhere near this danger. Stay inside#prayforparis
I’m not going to delve into a discussion on the evolution of our attention span in the era of social media and its sad and disturbing byproducts (the ease with which some of us disperse derogatory and shaming judgment). In her follow up post Lily Rose dealt with her critics very skillfully and seems to require no assistance. Instead I want to talk about why this image and accompanying text make for a more powerful image than any iconic symbol of the city.
Lily Rose’s words “I’ve never seen more panic in my life” resonate with me so deeply.
I was 17 when the first suicide bombing occurred in the country where I was born and grew up in and I watched terror inching closer and closer until it started hitting my hometown. Repeatedly. I remember calling my mom who was travelling overseas and trying to reach her when a bus exploded in Tel-Aviv. I wanted to tell her that I was okay but the phone lines were dead and I couldn't reach her. I remember an explosion on a Friday night about three years later, an explosion so powerful that I could hear it all the way on the other side of the city. I remember the routine check in phone calls from friends around the world and coming to expect them whenever something like that happened. I remember empty streets on national holidays. I remember sand bags in front of glass windows in restaurants and I remember the calculations mechanism. Would this happen twice in the same restaurant? Twice on the same bus? Am I likely to get hurt if I sit away from the glass window at this angle? I remember being a student and getting off the bus once and again and again and again whenever I saw suspiciously large backpack on my way home from the university. I remember being engaged and walking my dog ten years after the first boom and hearing yet another one. I remember hurrying home to my rental apartment for fear that there was going to be another one and that it would scare my dog. I remember not being scared myself. I remember the sense of relief over knowing that once again I wasn’t there where it happened. I remember it being replaced by the same recurring follow up question "yes, but what if someone I know was?".
I’ve never seen more panic in my life.
And then there’s Lily Rose’s "before" shot. A perfect juxtaposition to the after, described in the text. Perfectly encapsulating the carefree state of before, one where a selfie was just a selfie. Not a symbol. The girl in the photograph represents a lot of what we expect our children to be at sixteen. Silly. Carefree. Possibly experimenting with fashion choices we may not approve of. She’s pulling her tongue out. Holding a Disney phone case. I mean a Disney phone case – for God’s sake, what could be more opposite to the reality happening outside?! Lily Rose chose an image that perfectly captures that tension between two states before and after. Inside and outside and in doing so she masterfully summarized the hell that is terror.
By threatening our most basic need for physical security, terror implants panic in our hearts and a suspiciousness chip in our brains. Especially continuous terror. I pray for Paris that this was an isolated occurrence. I pray for all the other cities who see terror on a more regular basis and who were affected by it on Friday. I pray for a miracle. Children need and deserve to be carefree. Everywhere.
About two years into becoming a mother of two (and about five years into not sleeping), something in me must have snapped. I began watching myself, the same way you would a stranger, as I behaved in a way that was completely unnatural for me. I didn’t recognize nor like the uptight persona I was observing. With her clenched teeth, impatient hissing, occasionally raised voice, and distorted anger grimaces, she reminded me of that parent who behaves like they took a wrong turn somewhere and landed on parenting.
The fatigue that comes from the kind of sleep deprivation which seems to have no expiry date attached to it, parenting two rambunctious little boys while juggling work, house chores, and guilt could maybe account for my increasing lack of patience, but did my kids deserve to be at the receiving end of it?
Definitely not. There was never any doubt about that.
I started “self-medicating” with books. In my attempt to excavate and restore a more recognizable self, I consumed The Happiness Project, Happiness at Home, Buddhism for Mothers and The Untethered Soul to name just a few. I've signed up for online mindfulness courses for mothers and daily happiness project mantras to help me reinforce, maintain, and keep the resolutions I came to through reading.
Last week at a YMC event, I listened to colleagues I look up to talk about bravery in writing and that got me thinking about bravery in parenting. What does that look like? Certain principles emerged in my reading which tie in with the idea of bravery and I've adopted and adapted them to our unique family.
I mean, you’re a parent, right? It’s not like you have any ego left in you. It’s very simple: If you mess up – fess up. It'll show your children that it's okay to make mistakes and the importance of taking responsibility for your actions. Don't fret if it was actually your child who called you out on your behaviour first. Watching you correct it and realizing that their voice is heard will empower them and provide that sought-after sense of validation.
It's easy to get sucked into the self-imposing dynamic of an argument. Play devil’s advocate and remind yourself that in internet talk, your child’s struggle is no less real than yours (unless their struggle is about being a toddler who doesn’t want to eat a banana after arguing the opposite standpoint for the last forty five minutes and you’re two hours into bedtime. Then YOUR struggle wins).
Remind yourself where they're coming from. They are probably not driven by a desire to drive you crazy, no matter how compelling is the evidence in support of that. Behind seemingly ridiculous tantrum triggers are often much bigger issues, like a sense of not being heard, treated as equal, or validated.
I know I said parents don’t have egos anymore because they were annihilated via exposure to their children’s honest feedback. I lied.
It's super hard to set your ego aside. Kids often recognize your triggers and will push your buttons and things will snowball even though you’re fully aware that you’re arguing with a three-year-old while applying their argument tactics (“no, YOU started!”). But you can’t stop and retreat, because well, THAT would be stupid (says our phantom ego). I have many triggers: two-to-three-hour-long bedtimes, serving as a Karate kick practice aid, being ignored, being ignored when I’m warning about something that isn’t safe, being ignored when I try to do something nice for them, etcetera. These are the red fabric to my inner bull.
Both Buddhism for Mothers and The Untethered Soul talk about distancing yourself from your emotions by labeling them. When I sense the bull awaken, I’ll try to take a step back and examine my frustration and how it makes me feel physically and emotionally. Then I'll handle the physical symptoms (take a deep breath, relax my shoulders). If that doesn’t help, I’ll try to remind myself that the frustration fire cannot be put down with anger. Sometimes it actually works.
Flexibility is key in parenting, and sadly, I am probably not the most flexible parent out there. My husband and I had a discussion about the difference in how the children behave during bedtime with each one of us (think "war" for mommy vs. "peace" for daddy). One of the differences my husband pointed out was that even though he doesn't check the time nearly as often as I do during bedtime (read "never" vs. "all the time"), the kids will usually go down earlier and with less of a fight when he puts them to bed.
The difference in our approaches is that while I try to adhere to a very rigid agenda and get nervous when it’s being challenged, he allows much more freedom of choice within the same timeframe by being attentive to our children's particular needs and moods that evening (substituting a bedtime story for a game of Dungeons and Dragons, for example) and lets them take the lead and acquire a sense if control over the situation.
Making these little adaptations makes me feel like I’m one step closer to the mother figure my children deserve. I am old enough to realize that, on a graph, the improvement I’m seeking will not present itself as an upward leading staircase. Instead it is more like tiny waves - with occasional highs, and hopefully proportionately moderate lows.
Let's start with the bottom line just so there's no misunderstanding.
Woman? Absolutely. Of the year? Not so much.
Although it won't be officially announced until November 3rd, online media is reporting that Glamour Magazine will be honouring Caitlyn Jenner with its Woman of the Year award - a choice that sends many an eyebrow aloft. And not just for the wrong reasons.
Let's clarify. It's possible that you're opposed to this choice because you're a jerk; that you don't believe in an individual's ownership of their own identity and their right to choose happiness and to feel comfortable in their own skin (or well, in the opposite gender's skin, as it were). It's possible that in addition you also do not believe in an individual's right to love and marry whoever they want to love and marry. Even though you can't exactly pinpoint how the latter applies to Jenner, you probably kinda sorta feel like it probably will at some point, so you just lump the two together and use them to fuel your personal opposition to the idea of naming Jenner Woman of the Year.
Those would be the wrong reasons to criticize this choice.
What is it then? What makes Jenner not worthy of the honour bestowed on her? Is it simply a matter of "tenure" so to speak? Are we promoting a rookie?
A New York post article quotes feminist author, Germaine Greer, criticizing the choice based on Jenner's personal biography as a man, which excludes her from dealing with some of the hardships that biological females deal with. I will spare you the colourful image Greer uses in order to demonstrate her point; let's just say that in essence she points to Jenner's lack of vagina and all of its relevant appendages and byproducts as the main disqualifier. That reasoning strikes me as odd at the very least. And it also sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? By equating women to their physiology (vaginas, periods, etc.) aren't we reducing womanhood and femininity and objectifying women? Isn't that exactly what feminists accuse those guys who think you're a special kind of a boob ventriloquist of doing?
I think that reduction is exactly what we're subjecting Caitlyn Jenner to.
I disagree with the author of yet another article on Iowa State Daily that this act of nomination should be insulting to women everywhere. The (male) author of the piece that I mostly agree with sees this nomination as a statement that will be viewed by women thus: someone born with a penis actually beat me at womanhood. Nope. That's not how it works with us. Yes, she was born with a penis. Yes, Feminist Greer, she didn't do the whole vagina struggle thing. Yes, she didn't spend much time being a woman. It's not about that, people.
We're not going to punish someone for being born with a penis or not being born with a vagina. But aren't we taking one transgender person and making them a symbol, an embodiment and a living monument to their own act? And therein lies the problem: Caitlyn Jenner, I think you'll agree, hasn't accomplished much AS A WOMAN, YET.
That is not to say she won't in the future, hence the "yet."
I believe that by awarding her now, we are saluting an act (courageous as it is), not a person. I believe the title Woman of the Year to me should salute a remarkable woman, not a remarkable act.
Some of you will argue that Caitlyn, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, is indeed remarkable for that reason precisely; that Caitlyn, a family person and a public figure well into her sixties, decided to relinquish Bruce. That must have been difficult, I'll give her that, potentially excruciatingly so. Is her choice more difficult than that of other transgender who don't endure public scrutiny but also don't enjoy public support? I can't tell, but what I do know is that we're not awarding the transgender activists recently murdered in Argentina.
We're awarding a celebrity. What is it then that we're recognizing? One person's step toward self actualization? Or are we so grateful that we, the "weaker" sex, the underdog, were willingly chosen? Are those sufficient reasons to celebrate an individual as Woman of the Year?
Woman of the Year to me implies something broader, the full package (excuse the pun), if you will. Woman of the Year should be defined not by her physical attributes, but by what she's done as a woman FOR OTHER WOMEN.
And not a lot has been done. Yet.
Image Source: Flickr