I was at Christmas dinner with my family, and we were talking about how my parents think my older brother claims to be a half inch shorter than our father out of respect, as they appear to be the same height. “I raised my kids to be respectful,” my dad said. For just a moment, Tiny Me brightened with the possibility that a rare and secretly longed for compliment could be coming our way. Then, nodding to me he said to his brother, “so I’m pretty sure that one is yours.”

We were, in fact, raised to be respectful. It was probably the number one thing our parents taught us. A blind respect, for anyone older than or related to us. A respect that overrode our own feelings and needs. Is the crazy aunt calling you ugly again? Well just deal with it, she’s your elder and deserves your respect. Did that old man you’ve never met demand a hug? Better give him one (and stop that crying in the meantime!) because he’s lived longer than you have. Is everyone in the family not-so-subtly calling you a slut because you’ve been divorced and have the audacity to bring a date to a family function in the hopes of not dying alone? You probably are one, and it’s their right as esteemed family members of the older generation to tell you so. Appreciate it.

My dad isn’t completely wrong, though. Not about me really being my uncle’s (though insinuating that your wife slept with your brother when he was 16, in front of her, is another sweet holiday gem for another time.) but about me being disrespectful to him. I am. I roll my eyes at his stories. I call him an idiot. I don’t make my son hug him. I even do the unthinkable and stand up for my kid when my dad makes fun of him. That’s like two of us disrespecting him at once. I’m surprised we haven’t been banished.

I just got real tired of him molesting me, really. When I was young and he used his power over me to sneak his hand into my nightgown, or to make comments on my lack of noticeable breasts while trying to open my shirt, I stayed quiet. I had to. I was terrified. But then, little by little, I started fighting back. It didn’t work right away, but at least I had a voice. A scared, tiny voice that people still ignored, but it was there. Over the years, it got louder. One day, I even called him a piece of fucking shit. To his face. Because, lets be honest, that’s what child molesters are. He tackled and beat me, but it was worth it.

I don’t talk about my dad in a lot of detail, out of respect for someone that doesn’t actually exist. I don’t have a dad that loves me, and I don’t see that I ever will. But just in case he should appear, I’d like him to see that I’ve done my best to spare his feelings. Ever trying to be the good daughter, still convinced deep down that it was my fault, because I’m too sassy and weird.

I don’t talk about it with my mom much, out of respect for her. She chose him, over and over, and what’s the point of making her feel bad about it? Will my childhood change? Nope. Will my siblings come back for holidays so its not just me, trying for an unknown reason to repair a family that won’t even admit it’s broken? Probably not. Best to just leave it in the past, right?

I don’t tell many people in my family about this, out of respect for an image they hold onto. He’s their brother that fixes the roof. He’s their uncle that tells weird jokes and farts a lot. Even if I thought they’d believe me, why ruin this man they think he is over something that happened decades ago?

But then. I remember her. This tiny girl, who loved to dance. She wanted to be a ballerina. She lived to feel the music in her tiny body, twirling and leaping until she was out of breath. She thought the world was magic, and that she could be part of its beauty. Until they told her she was wrong. She had to do what they wanted, how and when they wanted it. That what she felt didn’t matter, it was only their convenience that did. So she stopped. Now I do things out of respect for her. She’s not older, she’s not an esteemed member of society, but she’s important.

For most of my life, I’ve tried to avoid confrontation and the mere possibility of hurt feelings by going along with whatever everyone else wanted. I don’t pick places to eat, movies to see, or adventures to go on, because someone might disagree, and it would be uncomfortable. When you’re constantly afraid of being disrespectful, everything becomes that way, even when it’s not. Having an opinion isn’t rude. Wanting Taco Bell isn’t a slight against someone else’s character. (An affront to your taste buds, perhaps, but not actually a personal insult.)

Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s the one day a year I make all my own decisions, without a thought to anyone else’s feelings. I eat where I want, dress ridiculously, laugh loudly, hug strangers, and do whatever I think of in that moment that makes me happy. It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

I’ve been striving to live like every day is my birthday. Maybe not complete with dress-up karaoke every night, but more the idea that I am important enough to weigh in on discussions the other 364 days a year. Everyone deserves that respect.



While My Pretty One Sleeps

My son and I are talking about social issues more and more. Part of me wants to shield him from the world, and keep him from worrying, but I also know that we have responsibilities, and he shouldn’t have to learn about them all on his own. It’s difficult, I’m in uncharted waters for most of it, and there’s always this voice in my mind saying I’m forcing him to be what I want, not what he wants. (I could write a great deal on whose voice that is, but I’ll save that for another day.)

I know who my son is. At the age of 5 he told me he wanted to grow up and find a way to stop the pollution from hurting the planet. When he was 9 he told me he wanted to work in the jungle, to try to keep it from dying. At 12 he told me if he had a time machine, the first thing he’d use it for is going back to the 1600’s and stopping slavery. Last week, he asked when the next Black Lives Matter rally is, because he wants to march. All of these were completely his own idea, brought about because under that shoulder-shrugging, Call of Duty playing, sulky teen exterior, is a sweet boy who cares. Who loves. Who is scared and angry with the way the world is turning out.

So we talk.

However, my son is also growing. Up until about 5 months ago, he was pretty small for his age. He’s since grown about 6 inches, and doesn’t seem to be stopping. This requires a lot of naps, and they tend to happen as soon as he is calm and relaxed. So…. when we start talking. Part of me wants to wake him up, because hey, bedtime schedules, and also I was in the middle of saying something. But that part of me that wishes I could still pick him up and carry him around, that plays with his hair whenever he lets me, that part lets him sleep.

While he does, I read about the other babies. The boys who don’t have it as easy as my white, blue-eyed kiddo. I read about the sons that didn’t get to grow up and change the world, because someone else decided to end their stories early. The mamas who don’t just worry about too much screen time and fast food, they worry about their kids walking in parks and going to the convenience store. The fathers who are torn from their children for having busted tail lights, then blamed posthumously as if a minor crime committed years before justifies them no longer existing. The aunties that are fine one moment, dead the next, and nobody looks into it. The kids who just want to walk down the street wearing a hoodie. The stories go on and on. There are no shortage of them, and they rip me open, every time. Because we did this. We brought the world to this, and then we turned away and ignored it. Pretended it wasn’t happening, told the victims they brought it on themselves.

Sometimes, I let him sleep, just a little longer. I play with his blonde hair that doesn’t get a second glance by a police officer, and I pretend for a moment that if he’s asleep, he’s safe.

But he’s already safe. I know this. We can’t ignore it. We can’t sleep through it.

Time to get woke.