“Mommy, baby is tired. I need to put baby in the pack and walk,” says Cedar, my two-year old.
I quickly design a makeshift baby carrier, tying his baby doll to his stomach. He walks back and forth across the house and then stops and sways. After five minutes, he sighs heavily and says disappointedly, “Baby is still awake.” He walks on mumbling to himself about how baby needs his milk and how the baby is too little to drink water out of a cup.
One day, recently, we were all eating dinner when Isaac, my five-year-old, broke the silence. “Mommy, what do I do when I get bigger, like when I am six or seven, and I am feeling angry or sad?”
I am constantly struck by how much gender weaves its way into parenting. The expectations and limitations of gender begin so young. I already see the world seeping in, trying to stifle my children’s freedom to be all that they are in their fullness.
The fact that I am raising two boys came as quite a shock. Here I am married to a woman, both of us with only sisters. What do we know about boys? I was raised by a warrior mother who taught me to be a powerful feminist. I was prepared to raise my own kickass girls. But life has a funny way of leading you into new and wonderful places.
I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m on a steep learning curve. I am searching for places to unpack toxic masculinity and giving thanks for those modelling a different way.
While it feels weird and somehow obvious to name it out loud, I am realizing how much I do love men and I want liberation for their hearts too. And I am beginning to ache with my male friends who struggle to uncover what has been lost as they try to articulate the emotions within them.
I worry about my kids. I watch Isaac around other people and see the ways he can lose his centredness in body and heart. I watch the way Cedar’s anger and sadness come out through his body and hands. How easily can these early developments be manipulated and pushed into masculine behaviour of disembodiment and violence?
I want them to feel grounded in their bones. I want them to always feel the freedom to dance. And I want them to be able to express what’s in their hearts, with their bodies, without the only outlet being violence.
While I do worry, I also see glimpses of freedom and strength that amaze me.
I watch Isaac’s excitement and pride as he wears his self-selected pink tennis shoes to school each day. I delight in his questions and concerns about the needs of the world as he makes sure he always has change in his pocket in case someone on a corner needs money. I honour Cedar as his heart is encompassed by the tears of others. When a child at the park falls, his own tears begin to fall, worrying about the other child.
I want to tend to their hearts and help them be alive in their bodies. I want them to listen deeply, honouring all voices. I want them to name their needs and rely on community. I want them to know how to step back and follow. I want them to know the power of words and use them in the work of justice. I want them to be loved and cared for and to know how to nurture in return. I want them to know the delights of intimacy. I want them to help smash the walls of patriarchy
and white supremacy.
But most importantly, I want them to be who they are.
With these hopes, we take them to the March for our Lives, resisting an epidemic of white men mass shooting out of loneliness, hate, and supremacy. We worship at the Catholic Worker where the voices of women preach the gospel. We spend time outside nurturing the seeds that grow, caring for chickens, and loving this earth with all its ecosystems. We model a marriage that uplifts each other’s work, offers gratitude constantly, and cares for each other’s hearts, minds, and bodies.
We surround them with gentle, loving men who cry easily and are doing their work around masculinity. We seek spaces to be wild, with the physicality of climbing trees and jumping on beds. We praise their moments of nurture, honesty, and intimacy. We tell them again and again how much we love them for all that they are and all that they will become.
So, Cedar, carry that child and nurture it with your own body. Feel the sway and hear the cry. And Isaac, when you are angry or sad, cry and cry and cry some more. Use your words to express the depths of feeling and why you feel the way you do.
Keep asking questions. Keep dancing even when it feels uncomfortable. Do not let the systems of limitation in this world deaden your imagination or keep you from being the gift you are meant to be in this world.
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is a writer, editor, activist, and mother. She lives with her partner and two sons in the neighbourhood where she grew up in southwest Detroit. She is the co-founder and curator of www.RadicalDiscipleship.net, a daily-updated blog focused on telling stories about what is happening on the ground among faith communities that actively yearn for a world defined by peace, justice, and dignity for every living being.
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