Sixteen hours a day for infinity days without the helpful scaffolding of school or clubs or teams has pushed me to the point where I recently told my children: “I’m so sorry. I see your mouths moving but all I can hear is BLAH BLAH BLAH. Your needs are probably real, but I am unable to attend to them at this time. If you cannot make a sandwich or solve this particular problem, whatever it is that your moving mouths are trying to assault me with, then you will either starve or bludgeon one another or fight to the death and die, and I want you to know that I will miss you.”
How not to introduce your black friends
The ongoing avalanche of information about how to retain that nubile body and that youthful glow puts pressure on people – especially women – to do everything that we can to stay fit. (It’s why we get a nostalgic thrill from watching the characters in “Mad Men” drink, smoke and stay up all night – the mere freedom of bald ignorance, of living in a time when you just didn’t know.) Cultural representations of middle-aged women have been unkind in the past, but it’s gotten more unforgiving for boomers and Xers alike. “I think we’re laboring under a different oppressive media image,” says Cohen. “Before, it was the frigid, asexual, overweight, boring housewife. And now we’ve gone to ‘you have to look like Jennifer Aniston.’ If we’re not a size-2 figure and have smooth skin from all of this work, then we think we’re a failure. We look horrible.”
“According to Save the Children’s annual rankings, Congo is currently ‘the worst place in the world to be a mother,’ ” says Sarah. [These rankings are based on infant and maternal mortality rates, education and income for women as well as other factors.] “But still, we feel so fortunate to live in such a tight-knit community of the kindest, most caring people imaginable. We love that our kids are raised by a ‘village’ and are exposed to a completely different world than the one they see when we visit the States. Next year will be our sixth year here, and if and when we do leave, we hope to stay in French-speaking Africa.”
Younger American adults appear to confirm this, according to the poll. About one third of Americans under the age of 30 who have a partner or spouse are in a relationship with someone of a different race, compared to one tenth of Americans over 30. And only one in 10 adults under 30 say no one among their families, friends or coworkers is of a different race, less than half the rate for Americans as a whole.
I have to remind myself of this now and then, when I see people discussing me on the internet in terms that dehumanize and reduce. They are caricatures, really, the sort of portraits you can pay a street artist in New Orleans to draw for you. The features are exaggerated, but they are based on just enough reality to look familiar, to make me a little more mindful of those warts and moles and wrinkles. Other artists accentuate the positives, of course, but those are glamor shots and no matter how many I hang in my locker, we all know they’re not entirely true; it’s all about the lighting.
I get that many people live in places where, sure, they don’t know one person of color. Maybe their neighbors are all White and they insulated themselves by virtue of where their parents live, but with the changing demographics of this nation and, ahem, A BLACK PRESIDENT, they didn’t see the tide coming? That’s the beauty of the Internet, y’all. It’s got lots of colors and cultures and shades and it looks amazing in its diversity. The voices out there are ready to tell you some things that you may not want to hear and that may run counter than what you’ve experienced and that’s okay, y’all.
The culture of motherhood, post-recession, had altered considerably, too. The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force at a time when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time, round-the-clock, child-centered devotion. In 2000, for example, with the economy strong and books like “Surrendering to Motherhood,” a memoir about the “liberation” of giving up work to stay home, setting the tone for the aspirational mothering style of the day, almost 40 percent of respondents to the General Social Survey told researchers they believed a mother’s working was harmful to her children (an increase of eight percentage points since 1994). But by 2010, with recovery from the “mancession” slow and a record 40 percent of mothers functioning as family breadwinners, fully 75 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” And after decades of well-publicized academic inquiry into the effects of maternal separation and the dangers of day care, a new generation of social scientists was publishing research on the negative effects of excessive mothering: more depression and worse general health among mothers, according to the American Psychological Association.
One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.