Why I Brought You To Susan B. Anthony’s Grave

My dearest girlies,

I know you weren’t thrilled to go with me to the cemetery on Tuesday. You were hungry (we really should’ve stopped at Tim Horton’s before rather than after; sorry about that). You were frustrated that you were missing certain classes at school. You were annoyed by the long wait.
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In any case, I know this wasn’t how you wanted to be spending the morning, and I really appreciate you tagging along. I know you don’t understand the historical significance of being able to vote. I’m not sure that I really understand, to be honest. Even though I know it isn’t a right for everyone in the world and that I should be grateful, there are times when – admittedly – I forget. So I understand why going to that gravestone wasn’t high on your list.

But someday, I think it will mean more to you.
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We brought all the girls for this historic day… including Jitter

As you grow older and travel, meet more people, and learn new things, you’ll come to live the lessons you only heard about in school. You’ll see how people of color are treated differently than people who are white; heck, given that you are biracial, you’ll probably experience it personally. You’ll see how gay folks are mistreated and disrespected – even though, to you, doing so makes absolutely no sense. You’ll see differently-abled persons mocked and vilified and entire regions maligned even though our faith teaches us acceptance and love for all. You’ll see, while we have more than enough, exactly how hungry and disadvantaged people can be; inequities and injustices of the world will blow your mind and break your heart.

I know that you do not – cannot possibly – fully understand these yet, which is why your dad and I are doing our best to help give you even the smallest bit of perspective. It is why we volunteer at homeless  sheltersmarch in the Pride parade, assist women and children in need, openly discuss race in our home, attended the rally in our little town after the white supremacist flyers were delivered to neighbors’ driveways, and why we put a sign in our yard says, “Our Differences Make Us Strong”.

I didn’t have any understanding of these things, of the world beyond my own, until I was much older. I think I turned out pretty well (shout out to Grama and Papa!), but I’m hoping to give you a different start – a chance to see the problems beyond our cul-de-sac… but also how we’re all connected and how, by reaching out, working hard, being kind and generous, remembering that we belong to one another, and being willing to truly listen to those who disagree, we can make a change. Our differences really do make us stronger.

Maybe you’ll look back on all this stuff and groan with annoyance (okay, who’re we kidding, this is so totally happening). But I also hope that maybe you look back on it with, if not nostalgia or fondness, at least an indulgent understanding of why it meant so much to me, and what I hoped to accomplish.
As for why I took you with me to vote and then had us stand in line to see Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone on election day?

You moaned with annoyance but I did it anyway. ‘Cause here’s the thing: I have no doubt that you will experience difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks simply because you are women. You will, as every woman I have known, be harassed, demeaned, or – at the absolute minimum – significantly underestimated simply because you are female.

When that happens, I want you to be able to look back at moments like Tuesday. I want you to remember how you asked if you could wear a pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton, our nation’s first major party woman candidate for President, and were so keen to don the blazers I found at Goodwill (it seems pantsuits are difficult to come by for the 12-and-under set). I want you to remember how eagerly you got out of bed today, so excited over the mere thought of a woman having the ability to become President.

I want you to remember how it felt when we exchanged smiles with the other women in their pantsuits at the polling place, members of a not-so-secret club. I want you to remember the woman who ran by every one of us in the more than hour-long line at Mount Hope Cemetery, hand aloft, gleefully calling out, “High fives, everyone, high fives!” and how we all laughed and held our hands toward her. I want you to remember the beautiful fall day, the red leaves of the trees, and the feeling of electricity in the air. (I know you’ll remember the name Mary Smyles Butts on one of the tombstones; I’ll admit, it made me chuckle, too.) 

I want you to remember how we allowed the woman using the walker to bypass us, even though we had all waited in line, too, because her companion asked if we could let them through. And we did, every last one of us: because that is what we women do for one another – lift each other up, support, cheer. I want you to remember the woman ahead of us who stood for 60-plus minutes with the full bouquet of white flowers… But when she arrived at Susan’s headstone, she had only three blooms remaining – because she had given away the rest to those standing around her, including you and me.

I want you to remember how we practically skipped back down the cobblestone pathway, saying aloud in hushed tones, “Do you really think she can do it??” (For the record: remember, also, that we do not want Secretary Clinton to become President solely because she is a woman; we had many other reasons. But the woman thing is exciting as hell.) That it is  even a possibility for a woman to come this far is because of the efforts of women like Susan B. Anthony and we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for our hope and optimism.

(Given how we make it a point in our family to discuss difficult things, this seems like a good time to point out that Ms. Anthony, while absolutely doing transformative things for women’s rights, was not, herself, supportive of people of color. This is complicated and messy, as all history is. We will keep discussing it. I still felt it important to visit.)

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The simple answer is I brought you to the cemetery on Tuesday so you could pay respects to the women who came before you. I brought you so that you can have a better understanding of our past – which, I hope, will give you a better understanding of our future.

More immediately, I brought you so that you would believe. Not necessarily in a Hillary Clinton presidency, but in yourself as women. I brought you on Tuesday so that, when you doubt yourself because you’re a girl, when you’re told that you can’t because of your chromosomes, when you’re disrespected for being female – maybe even by our President-elect – you will remember the line of people stretching for ages, sharing high-fives and flowers and letting those who were struggling cut ahead, to honor a woman who risked everything simply so we could have a say – a say! You will remember a world beyond your own, and that we are all connected.

Although Hillary did not end up becoming our President, that she made it this far, that this actually happened, is absolutely, astonishingly wonderful. Because if a woman was able to come this close to President of United States, then you, my dears, can truly do whatever you set your hearts on. And that is something worth celebrating and waiting in line for, regardless of the election result. (Take note: we’ll definitely be making this pilgrimage again; you can start groaning now.)

Yes, Hillary lost. I’m devastated and, quite frankly, terrified for our country (but that’s another post). I’m heartbroken that you, my courageous, loving, kind, intelligent, wise daughters still do not live in a world where a woman has become President. But we’ve seen it on election day and every day: women are brave. Women are strong. Women help one another. Susan and Hillary didn’t give up and neither will we. If not this year, another. We’ll fight together to make it so.

I brought you to the cemetery so you will remember that it only takes one woman to change the world. Her name is Susan. Her name is Hillary.

And her name is yours, too.

Love, Mama

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Making Allowances

Long before October rolled around, Ella knew what she wanted to be for Halloween: Eliza Hamilton (from, um, Hamilton the musical). After scouring the internet for the perfect dress, she fell for a beautiful replica in an Etsy shop.

It was expertly made, exactly like the one worn in the musical – and, therefore, cost more than double what we would normally spend on Halloween costumes. Seeing how an 18th century gown isn’t exactly something one wears to school or while running errands, we told Ella that spending so much on a costume to be worn once was simply out of the question.

Enter: her allowance.
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Ella inquired how much we’d be willing to spend on a costume. Then she inquired as to whether, if she chipped in more from her allowance, she could get the dress. We agreed. As soon we placed the order, Ella forked over the cash and waited impatiently eagerly for the package’s arrival. When it finally came, she was in heaven – and more than a little pleased with herself for deciding it was worth the money.

This, really, was the point of her allowance: to give her the opportunity to learn how money works, and more specifically, how it works for her. What does she want to procure? Does she want it enough to spend her own money on it? What is a fair price? Is she willing to wait for a bargain or does she want something immediately, so she’ll willingly pay more? When is something worth saving for? Does it feel better to blow through money to buy things that make her happy or to let her stash accumulate?

Every family handles money differently. Some folks give kids an allowance on a case by case basis when it’s earned for chores (or something similar). Others give a set allowance that is contingent on children doing certain tasks. Others base it on grades.

When the girls were little, Nick and I decided we wanted their allowance to mean something else. We wanted Annie and Ella to learn the value of a dollar, to learn how to spend and save money, and to have an understanding of how economics work. We both know kids who, upon graduating college, hadn’t ever had a chance to figure out how to save or spend money, and the results weren’t pretty; we didn’t want that for our girls.

An allowance was also a way of giving the girls a little autonomy. I remember how frustrating it felt being completely dependent on my parents for absolutely every purchase, from a pack of gum to the latest fashion trend (Benetton shirt, anyone?). Nick and I wanted to give the girls the ability to purchase things they wanted, when they wanted to, without relying on us.

I hadn’t expected that ability to garner so much ownership and pride.

Sometimes, of course, we say “no” even if they spend their own money; there are just things we don’t allow. But more often than not, if the girls want it and can afford it, it’s theirs, whether it’s a tin of Pokemon cards or sugar-laden gum or an Eliza Hamilton dress.

This is not, in any way, to say that Annie and Ella are not expected to do chores; they are. But Nick and I decided ages ago that we didn’t want to tie together chores and money. For one thing, we didn’t want to make it an option to just skip chores if the girls decided they didn’t feel like earning their allowance that week.

Even more importantly, we wanted to instill in them the idea that being part of a family means helping one another out, pitching in, and making things work together. That means everyone is expected to do their age-appropriate share; it’s simply what we do as a family, period, and no one gets paid for it.

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know I love me a good chart or whiteboard, and we’ve used a lot of different chore-type charts over the years. This seems to be the earliest…

chore-chart-extrasThese are circa 2009, when they were 2.5 and 4.5 years old; we start ’em early ’round here!

A couple years later, a chart and red stamp were used. Teeth brushed? Stamp. Bedcovers pulled up? Stamp. Trashcan carried to the hall the eve of trash day? Stamp. Within a couple of months, the girls were incorporating the tasks into their daily routine and no official chart was needed, so it and the stamp were retired.

(To be fair, Ella also got ahold of the stamp one day during rest time and stamped her wall and stuffed animals and bedsheets and clothes and I was so upset about the sea of red I encountered when I went into her room that I had made her shower fully clothed to prove the point that everything was so ink-stained, the only solution was to soak it. Not over-the-top at all. Good parenting times.)

Sometimes, the charts were very specific, with points to be awarded for checking items off the list and “prizes” to be redeemed after accumulating enough points.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-2-10-06-pmI believe these are circa 2013.

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More recently, we’ve employed a system  where they earn points for being kind, helpful, etc. (putting away groceries without being asked, feeding the dogs without complaint, offering a favorite chocolate to a sister…) and can then “spend” those points on things that hold meaning for them. It’s far from perfect, but it does a good job of encouraging them to not act like schmucks.
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As for their “regular” chores, like doing their laundry, clearing their dishes, making their lunches, and the like? They still have to do those – but there’s no tangible reward, unless Not Making Mom Irritable counts. It’s just part of being a family. There are no salary negotiations on these matters nor can anyone decide to skip the labor and forego a paycheck.

Their allowance is still doled out every week, regardless of how cheerfully they followed through on tidying the bathroom or how many points they earned. Because the point of the allowance is to teach fiscal responsibility and give them some autonomy, not to offer them an incentive to pitch in.

I’ve heard it said before that the reason allowances and chores are tied together is to give kids a realistic sense of how life functions. People get paid to do their jobs; if they work, they earn money and if they don’t work, there’s no money. I absolutely appreciate that for adults; money doesn’t just fall from the sky. Neither does it for my kids.

But see, that’s the beauty of the auto-allowance: it takes me, the Mommy ATM, out of the equation. If Annie and Ella desperately want Target dollar section Halloween socks, the money for that will not rain down upon them from mama’s purse so they can wear pumpkins on their toes. Even “just a dollar” adds up, both monetarily and otherwise. No; they’ve received their allowance. If they choose to spend it on jack-o-lantern fuzzier, so be it, but I’m not involved.

We do think it’s important to (try to) instill in them a healthy work ethic, to make them aware of the connection between doing a job and getting paid for it. Hence, the girls frequently have the opportunity to earn additional money to pad their allowance – by helping out with things around the house that are usually outside of their responsibility. Mowing the lawn, weeding, mopping, etc. are all “extras” that are rewarded monetarily. When they’ve got their hearts set on particular items they can’t afford, the Jobs For Hire are completed daily. Other times, the jobs go undone for weeks and the money just lingers, but that’s okay because these were just bonuses; the mandatory family chores have already been completed (for free).
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I have no illusion that this is a foolproof system, but it does seem to be accomplishing what we’d hoped – which is to say, Annie and Ella have a pretty decent understanding of how money works, what’s important to them monetarily, and how/when to save vs. how/when to spend. Considering I barely learned these until I was a young adult, I think we’re off to a reasonable start.

I think the chore thing is doing what we hoped, too: creating a sense of ownership and pride in our family, and helping foster the idea that we’re in this together. Because the girls have been learning basic household tasks for so long, they’re also fairly competent and capable at most of them, so fingers crossed that when they, like, head to college, we won’t have any last-minute Oh My Gosh You’ve Never Done A Load Of Laundry panicking. Or not as much, anyway…

Last night was the school book fair. I happily bought the girls a couple of novels, but when it came to the crap trinkets near the checkout, I drew the line. Receiving that news, Annie calmly opened her purse and handed over the cash – her own cash. She walked out feeling mighty fine that she’d been able to get exactly what she wanted… and I walked out feeling mighty fine that I hadn’t shelled out for a periodic table bookmark.

Win-win.