Gray hair

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Can you see them? 

I have no idea how I missed this many for this long. They shine best in the light let in by my sunroof, which I've only begun opening recently. Maybe that's how. I never had quite the right light.

At first, I thought they were blonde. I kept looking and peering and brushing my hair this way and that. Finally, I plucked a couple. 

Nope. Not blonde.  

Gray. Gray hairs clustered right where my bangs start. 

I was inexplicably thrilled. It felt like something new and exciting. My body is long past important transitions. New phases that showed up one day unannounced. Pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding seemed like unchartered territory for years with all manner of experiences to add to my story. Now that that phase of my life has come to an end, my body seemed like an old friend who's every trick I already knew.

And then these gray hairs - which judging by their length have been around for a while - showed up and I remembered there's this whole other journey I get to take. 

And - despite everything - I am excited. 

For one thing, so many never get to walk this road. I've buried friends at every stage of my life from a friend in elementary school who was hit by a car while selling Girl Scout cookies to my beloved friend who died before her baby's first birthday. 

I thought of that friend immediately as I held that course gray hair in my hand. I thought of an alternative reality where we would have discussed going gray and whether or not we were going to color our hair.  

Aging in her absence always feels like the most bittersweet blessing. 

Plus, I've felt recently like my life is changing - transitioning. My kids are getting bigger and more independent. With the election and the growing success of Pantsuit Politics, I feel bigger and more independent in my own way as well.

 It feels right that my body would mark that transition.

It feels good to look in the mirror and realize my finite trips around the sun continue in big ways that are hard to wrap my head around and in small ways that sprout out of my very head itself. 

My word for 2017

My word for 2017 is humility. Inauguration Day seems like the most appropriate time to share that. Election Day 2016 seemed to open my eyes to the importance of humility in ways I hadn't fully realized - through my own electoral victory and Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat. 

I made continuing and deepening that understanding my focus of the year.

For me, humility means pursuing something bigger than yourself - even in the face of your own human weaknesses. For me, humility means working towards goals that can't be accomplished in your lifetime. 

For me, humility means accepting that life is not fair and sometimes goodness is not rewarded. For me, humility means acknowledging that the goal is not be rewarded at all but to persevere. 

For me, humility means looking with honesty and sincerity at my own brokenness so that I can fully accept the brokenness of the world around me.

For so long in my life, I found comfort in control and perfection - in the constant striving. By focusing on humility, I hope to grow more comfortable with the peace found in grace and acceptance and compassion. 

 

Running for office as a woman

I waited until after election day to write this post for a very specific reason. The unconscious bias I encountered while campaigning (and I do believe most of it was unconscious) is a lot of things but it is not a reason to vote for me.

I wanted to people to vote for me for one reason and one reason only - they thought I would do a good job. 

Election Day has now come and gone. So, I can share what I encountered without worrying about whether or not it would affect someone's decision to vote for me. I hope that in sharing people will have a better understanding of what women encounter when running for office, will think carefully about their own unconscious biases, and will encourage and support any women in their own lives who want to run. 

As most of you know, I knocked on over 5,000 doors during my campaign for Paducah City Commission. I did almost all of my knocking alone and during the day while my children were in school. One any given day a little over half of the doors I'd knock on would be opened and I'd get to have an actual conversation, instead of hanging my door hanger and moving on to the next house. 

Here are some of the comments I got that I'm guessing my male opponents didn't: Are you married? What does your husband do? These comments came from both men and women. I often got asked if I had children, which didn't bother me. What did bother me is that several people - again men and women - openly questioned how I would have time to be a city commissioner (a part-time position) while raising three young children.

The current governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin has NINE children - the oldest of which was born in 2003. Do you think anyone worries about how he'll do his job or asks him how he'll take care of his children? I'm guessing not. 

Now, when one runs for public office, you are opening yourself up to questions about your personal life but often these questions didn't feel like curiosity. They felt like judgment. They felt like people were trying to figure out why a young woman was doing something not a lot of young women do - run for office. It felt like they were trying to place me within the traditional roles for women and make sure that I wasn't straying too far outside of those.

I also got a lot of comments on my appearance.

Some were negative. I had three men look at the picture on my door hanger - a picture where I am coiffed, groomed, and photoshopped - then look at me as I stood in front of them sweaty from knocking on doors all day and ask, "You sure this is you?"

I laughed it off but it stung every time. It stung not because they were insulting me but because of all the things they could have asked me or talked to me about regarding my campaign they chose to take a cheap shot about my looks and reduce our interaction to one about my appearance.

I also got a fair amount of compliments on my appearance. I had men tell me I was gorgeous and ask me how old I was. I had men tell me my photo didn't do me justice. I had several men mistake my politeness for permission to touch me. Several gave me side-hugs. 

Every time I was by myself and every time I felt like I had no choice but to smile and acquiesce. 

I know a compliment on your appearance always seems like a good thing. We all want to hear we look nice, but running for public service is serious and important. I am asking people to trust me with their tax dollars, their safety, the future of their community. I am asking for their vote and how I look is completely irrelevant. Again, I think it's safe to assume my male opponents didn't receive many comments on their appearance.

Towards the end of the campaign, someone wrote a letter-to-the-editor to our local paper warning people not to vote for me or another woman who was running for mayor. The letter argued that we were "stealth" and "devious" and hiding our true political motives in running for office.

Both my race and the mayoral race was nonpartisan. However, I was still open and honest about my partisan leanings and told anyone who asked what party I belonged to. So, first and foremost, the attack was wholly inaccurate. However, I also believe that letter and a letter posted publicly at party headquarters were gendered. The letter posted publicly also accused of us being "stealth" and hiding our real ideas. 

Forbes recently interviewed some of the world's most powerful women and asked the stereotype they hated the most. 

Conniving was in the top ten.

The idea is that women can't rise to positions of power on their own merit - women only rise because other people are grooming them (as the letter also claimed about me), because they are deceiving people, because they don't really belong here and they must be lying about who they are or what they represent in order to succeed. 

It is incredibly upsetting and insulting. 

Now, in full disclosure, there are also benefits of being a woman running for office. No one seemed to feel threatened or fearful when they saw me knocking on their doors. I had a male friend tell me to make sure and always take several steps back from the door after knocking. However, I almost never did and no one seemed to care. As a woman, no one saw me as a physical threat. 

No one was openly rude or hostile to me because of my gender and I want to emphasize that the VAST majority of my interactions were amazingly positive and productive.

And every time the door opened and a little girl was standing there with wide eyes, every time I got to explain to her why I was there and what I was doing, every time she smiled back made every crappy thing people said to me worth it.

Still, making the decision to run for office is difficult for anyone, especially women. Running for office is psychologically and physically taxing. The voices that tell women they can't do it are loud - whether they are coming from within our own heads or from a voter. 

I guess all I'm asking is that the other voices be louder. If you know a woman who should run for office, encourage her. If you know a woman running for office, support her. If you hear someone commenting on a female politician's appearance, shut it down. Donate to organizations that support and train women running for office. 

Not because women are better or deserve special treatment, but - in the words of a pretty famous male politician - "when everybody is equal, we are all more free."

"Boys will be boys."

Last night, I laid in my hotel room and cried. I let Donald Trump’s ugly words wash over me and the stress I’ve been feeling for months as this race stretches on and on and I cried.

I cried for every friend I’ve had tearfully confess that she had a secret and then share the heart-wrenching details of her sexual assault. I cried over the fear I’ve felt every time I’ve had a man yell sexually explicit things at me on the street. I cried for the people I know – people I believe to be well-meaning good people – who defended Trump’s words and used words like “boys will be boys” and “that’s how it is.”

I cried for Daisy and Audrie, whose stories I had watched a few nights before. I cried for every girl and woman out there witnessing this national discussion and having their own wounds re-opened and exposed.

I cried for my boys. I cried because being their mother can seem like such a daunting task sometimes that I wonder if I have the strength.

You see I realized something as I watched people defend this man’s vile heinous language. I realized why I had been passionately fighting with my own family about rape culture over the past few months.

Because when you say “boys will be boys”, you mean my boys.

You’re implying there is something dark and carnal lurking deep inside my little boys. The ones I cuddle and hold tight. The ones who hold my heart in their grubby little hands as they run and jump and smile wildly up at me. “I love you, Mommy.”

You’re saying that they will grow up and become men and become capable of taking something that does not belong to them, of breaking it, of destroying it.

I am capable of accepting a lot of things about motherhood. I am capable of facing the vulnerability inherent in this endeavor. I can face the lack of control. I can face the frustration and the bittersweet grief. I can even face the inherent risk of losing them forever.

But I cannot and will not accept that deep in their core lurks a rapist.

Of course, there is another underlying presumption when people say “boys will be boys” – when you blame the victim for the fact that she was drinking or flirting or being sexual.

It’s that the boys aren’t dark and sinister for taking because you can’t take what already belongs to you.

I’ve seen it a million times in men who look at me and comment on how I look or how I walk or how I act. You can hear it dripping in every word Donald Trump says on that tape.

You are here for my enjoyment. You have no value outside of what I assign to you.

I laid in my bed and wept because these are the impossible choices available to me as a mother of three young boys in 2016. Believe that my children are capable of rape based solely on their sex OR believe that I have no value because of mine.

There is something dark and cruel lurking deep within but it's not deep within my boys. It's deep within all of us if we continue to support a culture that assumes men are driven to terrible things because they are men or that women deserve terrible things because they are women. 

Culture always wins, but culture can change. 

We can change. 

Exit the Echo Chamber: Bipartisanship As An Act of Faith

Twice a week, I co-host a political podcast with a Republican. I’m a Democrat. This means that twice a week I sit down and engage in political debate with someone who feels very differently than I do on a great many issues.

We start each show the same.

No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.

Willingly volunteering for political confrontation is most people’s worst nightmares. It’s certainly my mother’s worst nightmare but I do it willingly because I believe we desperately need more civil discourse in the world. I believe that if we can’t discuss – even debate – the things we feel most passionately about then we are destined to fall for the siren song of rightness ringing in our own ears.