I am almost as cynical as I am sentimental. I turn the radio station every time the old-people’s soft rock station plays Creed’s “Arms Wide Open.” I have a dislike of love songs in general. Most of them are completely euphoric and unrealistic. I like the ones that acknowledge the ever-present dangers and trials that threaten love. Like David Bowie’s “Heroes” or Trent Reznor’s “We’re In This Together.” Likewise, I see a lot of people post happy pictures on social media with their partners or kids and I wonder (sometimes aloud) to myself, ‘who are they trying to convince?’
So I wouldn’t blame you if you see this picture of me and my daughter shortly after she was born, and swiftly scroll by today’s post. I truly believe there is a very fine line between public declarations of love and exploitation. But I also know deep in my bones that cynicism and sentimentalism can lead equally to exploitation. Cynicism scapegoats and victimizes women and every class of minority. Sentimentalism can lead to tokenism, countless “white-savior” feature films and white-washing complicated histories of sainted figures in our personal and public lives.
On this International Women’s Day (and every day), I want to eschew the shackles of cynicism and sentimentalism and do my best to impart a healthy dose of realism to both my daughter and my son. The world we live in can be a cruel and desolate place. My rapidly growing daughter, soon to be a young woman, has exponentially greater chances of facing sexual harassment and unfair wages than my son. My son has the awesome task of growing into a young man that respects his female counterparts in a world where a man can say “grab ’em by the pussy” and still become president. A world where such things are repeated on the playground by little boys who only have the slightest grasp of what they are saying, and the far reaching impact their words and actions can have.
I have the daunting and exciting privilege of playing a pivotal role in how they view this world. It is a world that can be so cold and cruel and at once such an intoxicatingly warm, wonderful and beautiful place. Some days I wish I could stay snuggled up in a ball like that with my daughter forever and protect her from the world around her. Some days I fear I need to train my daughter and my son survival skills for some impending apocalyptic disaster. But most days in between bouts of naïve, nostalgic optimism and apocalyptic anxiety, I am able to just be with them. And I will teach them the best I can to embrace the world around them, knowing it will kick them down and surprise them with love and wonder, sometimes in the same day.