A friend posted on Facebook asking what her friends did today to make the world a better place. I wrote: “Made Christmas cookies with my family. Raising Henry to be a loving, empathetic, soulful creature who is secure, generous, kind, confident and self-reliant is my project right now. A boy who will love, not hate; lead, not follow; and teach others to do the same. A chain letter of empathy.”
I haven’t been good about writing here. I don’t know what I planned to use austinavon.com for, and I’ve mused about it developing into a “mommy blog” or even just my thoughts about Henry, hopes and dreams, etc. Photos to share with family. But Facebook seems to fill the purpose more often than not.
But anyway, answering that question made me want to write more about it. About my purpose as a mother.
I don’t blame mothers for things their children do. I know that I have great parents and was a shithead in high school, through no fault of theirs. But being a mom, I feel like I have a chance at making the world a better place in a chain-letter kind of way. Not only through my own actions, but in the way I raise my son.
During our trip to Albany for a nuchal translucency screening, when we found out at 12 weeks that we were having a son, the first thing to loudly clang in my head was the last line of Andrea Gibson’s slam poem Blue Blanket, which is a jarring, raw poem about rape:
she’s not asking what you’re gonna tell your daughter
she asking what
you’re gonna teach
What am I gonna teach my son?
That we’re all just people, with blood and bones and guts. We all have feelings, parents, things we love, things we’ve lost, triggers that make us happy and sad. No matter what we look like or how we come across, we have a lot in common. It spans not only color lines and gender differences and sexual orientations, but city vs. country folk, people from other countries, workers vs. customers, people who are bitchy to you – everybody.
And so we treat one another with empathy and respect. As we would like to be treated. Across any organized religion, the golden rule is king for a reason. It’s not only the right thing to do to put yourself in another’s shoes; it’s the way you’ll understand the world, and the way you’ll get by in it better.
Treat people with respect because you understand them, because you have tried to visualize and feel for yourself what it’s like to be them and why they do or say things.
I’ll admit that I still snap sometimes; that I bang my head against the wall trying to figure out what the hell someone is thinking and why they’d say such-and-such a thing to me. I’m not a perfect saint who always turns the other cheek.
But deeper, when I think it through, underlying everything I do, I’m trying to see it all from another’s perspective.
And I want to pass that on. I think we’d all be okay if we did, too. It’s near impossible to just be mellow and peaceful all the time, but if we aim to make it a constant practice of realizing we are all wearing the same skin, with the same hearts pounding beneath, seeing one another as mirror images of ourselves (“maybe we’re all tomatoes“) then less bad things would happen.
I’ve had this clarity, being a mom myself now, about all of humanity. Everyone who is alive right now had someone who cared about them enough to make sure they’re here now. To feed them, buy them clothes, wake them up in the morning to go to school. Even if it was the bare minimum and they had horrible parents, even just the basics takes a giant act of love and sacrifice. It makes me realize that we are all loved, or were as children, at least. And that doesn’t really go away over time, does it? No matter who you are, if you are alive, somebody has loved you and taken care of you.
Anyway, it was really important to me to make sure that Henry and I bonded immediately after birth, because I think feeling alone is what makes bad things happen. When people can’t recognize that we’re all just doing our best and trying to get by. When they think of everyone else as “other” or feel like they themselves are “other”. Instead of as one.
And if we open our arms to hold one another and also trust that there are open arms out there when we need them, we’ll realize that we aren’t alone.
We have each other.