Good morning, my Beloved, Precious Daughters,
I had planned to write to you last week, when I believed I would be able to celebrate with you the election of the first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. I spent the morning and the day of the election in a state of excitement and joy, believing that my amazing girls would get to witness a change in the times, a lifting up of women and girls, the power of humanitarianism and good winning over greed, ignorance, and bigotry.
What more could I want for you, my girls, and for girls across the nation than a leader who understands what it means to be a girl and who has been fighting for the rights of women and girls for years! I was pumped and ready. I went to that polling place singing anthems, and I walked through the door wearing my “Pussy Grabs Back” shirt with pride, and I sat at that voting desk with my pen, and I voted, thinking of my beautiful family the whole time. I voted for women and girls. I voted against the man who disrespects women and girls and people of color, and I voted for the future of my daughters.
I felt the whole time like the two of you were there with me. And you were. You were voting in your Kids’ Vote election at school. You were exercising your right to vote, as girls, and you voted for Hillary Clinton. You voted for a woman on the ballot. You were excited, but you were worried, too. Elanah, you were very hopeful and confident that Hillary would win (like me); Darah, you were a bit more skeptical. You said, “There’s still a chance Trump could win.” We felt both the joy of believing in the intelligence of our nation and the pain of fearing the ignorance of our nation. I am so proud of you, for voting in the Lincoln School election. And, hey: Hillary won the Lincoln School election. Way to go, kiddos! Those are some smart kids; if only the adults that make up a good chunk of our nation were as smart!
The week before the election, we celebrated Halloween and the harvest season, and I devoted much of my Halloween energy and creativity to a celebration of the week of November 8th. It was time for the witches (aka “nasty women”) who for centuries have been maligned, mischaracterized, demonized, and oppressed to take their power back and for the hatemonger witch-hunters to learn a lesson. The spirit of empowerment and progress was abounding, it seemed.
I was thrilled that the two of you chose empowering Halloween costumes, and I wanted to honor you both, our relationship, and our family’s unique kind of patriotism in the pumpkins I carved this year. I started looking for our pumpkins in mid-October, and ended up with three lovely ones by the end of October. I then put on my idea-generating hat (my witch’s hat, of course) and started brainstorming ideas for the carving. I came up with a ton of great ideas, but when my idea-generating hat sent the word “lady liberty” sailing into my brain, I knew I had our concept.
Days earlier, I had encountered a wonderful poem you should know and learn, as my daughters and as the daughters of liberty. It’s a sonnet and it’s called “The New Colossus.” It was written in 1883 by a woman named Emma Lazarus in support of the construction of the statue of liberty. Do you know about the statue of liberty? You’ve gotta see it. With me. Someday. I don’t know when, but someday our family is going to see the statue of liberty together– and together we’re going to recite this poem:
This poem characterizes our version of patriotism. We believe that the United States is a melting pot and open borders are what define our “American Dream.” We don’t believe in building walls to keep out people who are different than us. We don’t believe in closing doors; we believe in opening them. We are here because of open borders. Your great, great, great grandparents came to Ellis Island and they became citizens of the United States. Your biological father came here from the United Kingdom. We know that our country originally belonged to Native American communities, and that lands were stolen from them from a variety of sources, and we know that thousands of people were dragged from Africa to the United States as slaves, forced to leave behind their families and homes so that they could serve the greedy desires of the white men who insisted on being called “master.” Our country has a past that many wish to ignore and dismiss, but we do not. We refuse to ignore our painful foundations. For us to build walls in a country that is home to people in the early states of their struggle to achieve liberty and justice for ALL would be the worst kind of hypocritical madness. The liberties we enjoy are because of open borders.
This is why I turn to Emma Lazarus and her sonnet. It speaks of the concept, and the idea, of liberty– the one to which we should aspire and the one for which we should fight. Liberty is worth fighting for. Liberty is, as Lazarus states, the “mother of exiles.” We want the United States to be a place of refuge. When I read this sonnet, I also think of Jesus Christ, who was a reformer for radical equality that would transcend all divides and borders. The United States that represents refuge and equality is the one I want for my daughters and for all of the children who are born here or are brought here.
As soon as the mighty mother of exiles popped into my head during my pumpkin carving quest, I knew my theme was set. Almost immediately after, the beautiful phrase “sister suffragettes” came sailing through my brain. The pumpkin trinity. Lady Liberty and her Two Sister Suffragettes. Representing the trinitarian nature of our family unit. But then I had to figure out how to carry out our brazen theme.
With the help of some of my colleagues, the members of the publicity team at Prometheus Books, I tossed around ideas about how to bring the sister suffragettes to fruition. I also looked on line for inspirational images. My friend Cheryl sent me an image of a silhouette of suffragettes. It was great, but it didn’t quite capture what I wanted to do and I was worried the suffragette theme wouldn’t come across directly enough, so I decided to be more abstract in an effort to be more literal, which sounds funny and ironic but is sometimes the most effective choice. Your mum is not the most linear of individuals; I’m for long ways home and paths not taken. So I turned those suffragettes into metaphorical flames from Liberty’s torches. You are the little suffragettes– the mighty woman’s torches, and you burn bright.
What do you think about the line in the sonnet about Liberty’s silent lips? There is much sadness there, I think. Silence and sadness often go hand in hand but something different is going on in this poem. Her silence is a cry. And outcry for the upholding of ideals even in the midst of things that serve to dismantle the dream of liberty.
On November 8th, my loves, our dream of liberty was, again, dismantled. In a colossal and detrimental way. The rights of millions of marginalized people are in danger now because a very greedy business man (we have been calling him a “snake oil salesman” for a long time) who played his cards profitably was elected president of the United States. Donald Trump appealed to people’s greed, to their desire for advancement in warped fantasy that tells white men they can climb to the top no matter what stands in their way (even liberty itself), to their fear of having to share and give up some of their wealth– Donald Trump appealed to people’s fear of the empowerment of the marginalized, to their fear of having an intelligent woman lead the country– Donald Trump appealed to white America’s uneducated population, and as it stands right now corruption, racism, and bigotry won the battle. Liberty lost. But the non-violent war against bigotry and imperialism will continue.
We must turn to Lady Liberty in times like this, and we must take hope in what she symbolizes about our dream for America because our American dream still lives and its mighty flames still burn. Progress takes time. Old stubborn ignorance holds on but eventually new generations will overcome it. Sometimes we get a painful reminder that we’re not as far along as we thought– and when that happens, we must not lament for too long; we must set our minds on what we can do to help future generations transcend this era of ignorance. There are a lot of people who are ready to fight for change. Together, we must work and do whatever we can to create a better world.
A better world is one in which greed and domination are not the prevailing ideologies. A better world is one in which humanism and helping each other prevails. Remember Lady Liberty’s hand: “from her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome.”
We are working toward an Era of Welcome. That is our dream. That is our goal. That is what we get up every morning to work toward. That is the beacon in the distance. Keep your eyes on it, my girls. World-wide welcome is our patriotism. This is hospitality.
Your mummy is an activist, and you are budding activists. We all must do our parts. When we received the devastating news about the election of Donald Trump to office, I was reminded of another time I received devastating news. It happened before you were born, on September 11, 2001, when I was a senior in high school. I was at school that day, in my safe and happy bubble surrounded by people I loved, when we were hit with the news that four airplanes were hijacked and driven into two towers in NYC, the Pentagon, and a field, killing the passengers and thousands of other people. I was in the choir classroom of my school when we learned the news, sitting in a chair on the risers, surrounded by my chorus friends. I recall the look on my friend Alice’s face as she learned the news and dissolved into tears, worrying about her sister’s safety because her sister lived in New York City. I don’t recall much else except for the mass distress and helplessness. I remember comforting my friends who were upset, which was helpful to me. I remember the feeling of togetherness, too. Everything felt slow and scary, but I also felt a lot of comfort because I was with those I love. I hope that’s how you feel, in light of what’s been going on lately, whenever you experience distress. I know that writing helped me. I wrote to people I loved and they wrote to me– and we comforted each other with words. That probably helped the most, and that’s why I am writing you. Writing you helps me. And I hope someday when you read this that it helps you.
9/11 is something I will always remember. I recall trying to help others but that eventually all the pressure of trying to help others took a toll on me, and in the coming days, I struggled with a lot of weeping. My friend Brette and I went to see one of the school guidance counselors because we were so distraught and could not stop crying. I remember that, I remember the two of us crying into each others arms uncontrollably, distinctly. Everyone reacts to news in their own way, of course.
I wanted to be with you on 11/9 (the 11th of November, 2016) when you learned that Donald Trump was elected president. I wanted to go through that with you. I did talk to you about it, and you seemed to be alright, so I know that Momma Si probably handled it with you in just the right way, which is comforting to me. I wanted you to know that a terrible thing happened but I also wanted you to know that we will persevere and continue to be who we are, despite all obstacles that arise. Later on the night after the election, after talking with you on Facetime, I went to hear a woman named Laila Lalami speak at Kleinhans Music Hall. She was participating in an event called “Babel” that is run by the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Just Buffalo Literary Center supports the empowerment of people through literacy, and Laila Lalami wrote a book called The Moor’s Account that speaks very directly to the issues we’re having today. Being in attendance at the talk was a memorable moment in my life. It felt very much like being at school on 9/11, surrounded by people who were feeling what I was feeling. We were all in the auditorium together– experiencing the grief together. We were very fortunate to have been able to listen to Ms. Lalami on that night– I wish the two of you were there with all of us to hear her words. I took notes and wrote some of them down, but it was the feeling of being there, listening to them, that sank into me as a spiritual memory that will stay with me always.
Ms. Lalami discussed the politics of naming, the research process and the power of the oral tradition of storytelling, but I will remember most that she shared with us her raw and real reaction to the election results. She made it a safe space to grieve openly. She shared her thoughts and fears, and she told us one thing in particular which struck my heart profoundly– she told us how much it hurt to be apart from her daughter during this time. She told us that she could hear fear in her daughter’s voice when she spoke with her. What a thing for a mother! I know because I know I know that hurt of not being able to be with the ones you love, and I also know what fear sounds like coming from you, my own precious daughters.
One time when you were very tiny, Elanah, you were in a toy aisle with me and I stepped into the next aisle to see something. You thought I had abandoned you. You thought you were alone in the world. And you saw a man nearby, and that was it, you were overcome with fear. I came back to find you, only seconds later, and what I found I will never forget. What I found was my little girl, feeling tiny and helpless, with a look of terror on her face and tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. I will never forget it because, while everything was fine and you were safe, that look on your face cracked me inside. I immediately swept you up and kissed you and held you and reassured you, but your expression in that moment will always be with me. I never want you to have to feel scared; I always want you to feel and be safe and secure. Just like Ms. Lalami feels the same for her daughter. Just as all loving mothers want for their daughters. Mothers fight for our daughters; that’s what mother’s do.
Having Donald Trump as president of our country means that we, as mothers, cannot feel secure because our daughters are not safe. I promise you, Darah and Elanah, I promise that I will fight for you to live in a safe world until the day I die. I will also fight for your girlfriends and all girls and women, in some way or another. Some children of various descents and religions are feeling very scared right now, much like you felt Elanah, that they are going to be sent out of the country. This is why is it NOT okay that Donald Trump is president.
There are things that we can do to combat the fears that we are experiencing right now as a result of this ominous election. We can work together and we can work to build that World of Welcome of which we dream. Laila Lalami reminded us that we can all do something. Not all of us will be front-page activists, but we all have work to do. Kids can help, too. Find what it is you can contribute, whether it’s dancing for liberty or writing for liberty or making art for liberty… find what it is and do it. I will talk to you about what you can do. And I will tell you about what I am doing.
After being at that momentous talk, I began communicating with some people and I read some articles, and this led me to become involved with an organization called Pantsuit Nation of Western New York– they are made up of thousands of people who want to create that World of Welcome. I went to a community organizing meeting this week and I now have a ticket to Washington, D.C. to participate in a historic march on Washington. On January, 21, 2017, the day after inauguration day, I will get on a bus with forty or more other Western New York Pantsuit Nation Dudes, and we will ride through the wee small hours of the morning to get ourselves to the Women’s March on Washington. I wish you could be there with me, but you need to be in school, so I will tell you all about it.
I’m marching for you, for me, for us, for our neighbors and our nation, and I am doing this to stand up for and defend what I believe in. You will be with me, I promise, you will definitely be with me. And you will always know that your mummy did not sit back and accept the things she couldn’t change: she got out there and tried her best to live out Angela Davis’ call to “change the things we can’t accept.” We cannot accept hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, and domination. We cannot accept living in a state of fear and helplessness. This is what happens after the lamentation: we organize and we offer whatever resources are available to us, including us. Because I will be substitute teaching for the Buffalo Public Schools in the spring, I have some flexibility in my schedule that will allow me to do this. And so I must do it. On behalf of myself and on behalf of those who cannot be there. First and foremost, I will represent MY MINORITY FAMILY at the march. I am a lesbian and a woman, and I have two precious daughters, and I will march for us, but I will march for every marginalized community, as well.
I love you both so much. I will fight for you and for your rights.
Next week is Thanksgiving, and thank God, I will be with you. It’s been a couple of months since we have been together, and I am anxious and desperate to see you. Last night, I had trouble sleeping. I tossed and turned, and I prayed for you and for mothers and daughters everywhere: that they be safe, and well, and united. As I started to doze off, I was awakened by a sudden stirring in my soul (I don’t know what else to call it). I looked out my window, and amidst the midnight sky, I saw a star twinkling brightly. The exact words in my head (I know because I jumped up after to write them down) were this: “What’s it like going to bed every night alone? It sucks. It sucks so bad. But I go to bed staring at a star out my window, knowing you are safe.” Okay, maybe it’s not the most profoundly and graciously stated midnight thought that ever occurred to a mother separated from her kids but I share it with you so that you know that you are on my mind.
I do go to bed alone every night. Your grandpa, Dimpy, is not at the house a lot, so most of the time it’s just me and the beagles in that big, old house on Chasewood Lane. This is not something I mind, but the house is different than the one I remember growing up in. The 68 I knew was always populated by people and excitement. People were always coming and going. My childhood home was a hub of welcome. Coming back here, without my mom living here and with my dad spending most of his nights somewhere else, it’s different. It’s empty. It’s quiet. I miss my mom, for sure, and I miss my dad, too, and I miss the family that once lived here. You know, before you were born, I was having a lot of trouble being in Macomb without my family. I moved there at twenty, thinking I could be fine, but I was wrong. I tried to keep it all in but I was sad a lot of the time. I was sad after you were born, too, that you would not grow up with the family environment I did. There were a lot of downsides to growing up in a big family, but more upsides. I couldn’t survive in Macomb without family. As my marriage to your Momma Si was coming undone, I stopped feeling like I had a home in Macomb. I began to feel like I was an unwanted guest in someone else’s house. Except it was the house with my children: with my angels.
I believe now that your mom and mum are divorced, you will be able to feel like you have a home with Momma Si, something I believe the three of you could not experience together while I was there. And you will now be able to feel like you have a home with me– I believe that when you are with me in Buffalo, you will feel that the three of us are home and have a home. I have already experienced it when you visited, and it was wonderful. Yes it kills me to be apart from you. I am aware of it at all moments, internally, but we are doing the best we can with the circumstances.
Last night, I was at the show, doing something backstage, and our dressing room is housed in a preschool at the Jewish Community Center. I passed by a row of little cubbies and a bunch of rainbows that the little students had made, and it immediately made my heart ache, thinking of you. But despite this heartache, I can survive because I am in Buffalo. I could not do it in Macomb. I can survive here because I have family here. I have people I can rely on. People who will jump up to help me in the middle of the night if I need help. People I will jump up in the middle of the night to help. I have a support system now– something I did not have adequately in Macomb. This will allow me to survive and to be a good mom to you and set a good example for you. Wherever I reside, my girls, will always be a hub of welcome because that is who we are: we are a welcoming family. We don’t close others out; we invite them in.
I do feel sadness and loneliness every night when I go to bed in a big, empty house, when I have only the sound of a barking beagle drowned out by the songs in my headphones to keep me company. It is very hard. For the past week it’s been particularly hard because I have been dealing with a very painful back pain issue, and one of the things about living alone is that you don’t have anyone to rub your back if it gets sore. But my back pain seems to be letting up a bit– I think knowing that I am loved is helping.
Being alone in a house in Buffalo is hard but nowhere near as hard as it was living in the small town of Macomb, all alone without family, a few blocks away from where you live with your Momma Si. Your Aunt Missy is my saving grace, particularly given that Gramma Sue isn’t here. She is my lighthouse, my family here. Dimpy, Uncle Brian, Uncle Billy and Aunt Kate, Nana, GiGi Mel, and your aunts and cousins, as well as my friends, are all my beacons here, helping me through so that I can be a good mum to you. My wish on a star is that someday you will live here, and that all of your family will be together, but I focus on what is now: and what is now is that we have the gift of Thanksgiving together. This will end our period of 64 days apart, and I know will cherish every moment of it.
We have a little family project, too. In addition to the Pokemon challenges I’ve been alerted I will face next week, we have a little mission. At church last Sunday, Pastor Tim told us about an angel tree. Have you ever heard of an angel tree? It’s something that churches do, I think, as a way of reaching out to support children during the holidays. I wish you were with me to do this, but I did it on our behalf. There was a basket of angels on a table, and I picked one for our family and put our angel on the tree. The angel represents a child who will be getting a gift from our family. The people running the angel tree at church randomly chose a child for us. They handed me a red slip of paper with information about our kid. Our child’s name is Sarah. She’s four years old and she wears a size four. She’s our family’s little angel this season. We won’t get to meet her, but we will pick out a toy and an outfit for her to open. I know you will be excited about this. We will do it together over Thanksgiving weekend, but not on Black Friday, because I refuse to shop on that day. We’ll go on Small Business Saturday.
Lastly, I meant to tell you that I went to the Orchid Show last Saturday. It was great. I went with Dimpy and Patti, and it was a pleasant outing. It makes me excited that we’re going to go to the Botanical Gardens to celebrate your birthday this winter, Darah! I think both of you will like it there. I was reminded of our trip to the butterfly museum, and I know what bliss that was for our whole family! After our visit with the orchids, we visited an incredibly beautiful Catholic church, in Buffalo, and I found Joan of Arc in the church gift shop. I will wear her around my neck all the time.
We’ll talk about Joan of Arc and what she means to me sometime, but for now know that she is a variation on the theme of Lady Liberty to me, and I wear en emblem of her as a reminder of who I am: I am your mother, I am the one who will fight for you. This is a letter of commitment.
March on, my girls! I love you.