Last month, the whole family was home and gathered around the table as my husband served his pizza (originally “my” pizza, just as these two guys were originally “my boys,” and even Casey himself was mine before he was theirs), which was our Friday night ritual throughout our early domesticated years, but is now a dietary indulgence reserved for “company,” (which somehow our children have become), and this is when the conversation turned toward the Democratic candidates for President and whether it was enough that Bernie was speaking into the places that most needed attention even while remaining glaringly male and white.
At some point, between the white goat cheese with mushrooms and the red mozzarella with green peppers, I used the words “feminine” and “masculine,” which is a trigger for my youngest, 18, who sees the world in less binary terms, a source of ongoing agitation between us (and hope for the future); but on this occasion his older brother, 23, (who lives in Burlington and worked on Sanders recent Senate campaign), defended me, stepping in on the side of gender oppression, mainly because of that class he took at University of Vermont last semester, which woke him to things he’d been blind to, even at home, so that the two of my young men began arguing, instead of me, and it was like my brain, two aspects of it, were across the table, working out the future, while I was dipping crust in olive oil and romano cheese.
“This is the life,” I thought, taking another sip of rosé.
Now that the hormones of Menopause (and before that Motherhood) have depleted my capacity for attention and winning, I can barely sustain a good argument, but leaning back, I was able to appreciate the mind I once possessed.
That was until the debate continued through the second pizza and the third until I could no longer understand what my brain was even talking about, as if it had mutated, and it had, especially if you consider that their brains developed inside me, at my breast, and in my home, though of course, my husband did contribute some significant DNA material, but it was I who made my body a welcome place for new life (no cigarettes, no alcohol, no caffeine, less stress, yoga, meditation, Al-Anon) while learning about “homebirth” and “organic” and then “local” and “family beds” and “attachment parenting,” and it was I who lay down her ambition and identity to nurse them for YEARS, and raise them in a home with constancy and attention and no television, with weekly trips to the library and into the woods and later from time to time onto the streets to march for others in a community that celebrated the arts and activism, and finally inviting them to join me first as junior delegates and now adult NGO representatives at the annual Commission on the Status of Women.
When the final pizza was served, one that was largely ignored, it was time to clean up, but it was the only other female in the room who went toward the sink, while the mutations continued arguing about feminism, oblivious to obvious, until I interjected, and then the younger one who is transcending binary thought, got up to clear the table, while the older one, who taught me to say gender “oppression,” (instead of discrimination because of that class at UVM) left the room entirely to retrieve just the right article to prove his point to his brother, which is when I gave up sipping and went onto the porch in the COLD where I retrieved the cowbell, and brought it inside and began ringing it, hollering:
“GENDER OPPRESSION, GENDER OPPRESSION happening right NOW in the kitchen!”
My first born sheepishly returned to the kitchen and took over at the sink, and with the few years spread between my household authority and his own, he actually seemed to listen while I explained that given centuries of oppression, he had to overcompensate so that she can be the one retrieving the article instead of the one at the sink, and so that I who had planned and shopped and budgeted for the meal could remain sipping (as could his father had already served as chef.)
“It’s not enough to help out,” I said as my son rinsed the pizza pan, “It’s not enough to change some diapers. You must do more than your share if women are to break out of the mold that has robbed us of our potential and influence.” (What I actually said was much longer and less eloquent.)
Back when these boys were just a twinkle in my eye, I recognized the possibility of freedom in the college drop out who would become their father–a man who not only respected women’s leadership (I was his boss) and admired their intelligence (I was ahead of him at school), but who also pitched in as fully as he could despite the added privilege of being male in an industry of females (first in the restaurant, then in education), and in whom I recognized both strength and surrender which would allow my own humanity to blossom, as well as that of our future offspring, and perhaps too I dreamt of granddaughters inheriting what my grandmothers imagined for me–equality–which is currently projected beyond our lifetimes.