Like most girls growing up, I had an ever-changing list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The list was chock full of the usual suspects: ballerina, actress, singer...I think magician was even a consideration around the third grade. But as nature would have it, I’d soon learn that I didn’t have much talent for singing, or dancing, or pulling a rabbit out of hat, and those occupations eventually fell from the list. There were two professions, however, that never wavered and made the top of my list each year: mom and teacher.
After graduating from college with a dual major in Elementary Education and Special Education, I began working as a teacher. I soon met my future husband and on our first date we discovered that we shared a mutual desire to become parents. We married three years later and immediately began trying to grow our family. All seemed to be going just as I had planned as a child.
In the beginning, I was surprised each month when I failed to yield a positive pregnancy test. But as the months passed, my once initial surprise grew into absolute devastation. Over the next 3 years we endured 7 failed IVF’s (3 resulting in miscarriage.) I became angry, depressed, and hopeless. I frequently found myself on the receiving end of pitying expressions from friends and family as they gently broke the news that they were expecting. I found myself reacting with overzealous enthusiasm so as not to reveal my secret pain. I would then dart to the nearest bathroom to sob. Meanwhile, my husband and I were also anxiously waiting to be matched with a child through adoption. We began experiencing conflicting information and delays from our agency. My hope of ever having a home full of children began to fade and my passion or enjoyment for just about everything faded right along with it.
After a heart-to-heart with my father and a refocusing on the unconditional love and support of my husband, I realized the pity party I had been throwing for myself wasn’t changing anything about my circumstances. In fact, it had wiped out everything else good in my life.
A Bright Signs Learning Customer
There was more to me than infertility and it was time to start living again in spite of it. I took the attention off of what I could not control, and began focusing on what I could. With that, I started investing in myself, one day at a time. I began by simply exercising again. Then, I turned my attention to my tutoring business. I took on new students and I continued to improve my sign language interpreting. I found so much joy as I developed in my professional career, and took pride in developing the skills, games and techniques necessary to teach students to read and love learning.
In August of 2010 we got the call we had been waiting for: we had been matched with a beautiful baby girl. That Fall, my husband and I flew to Ethiopia and our world changed forever. I was finally a mom. I could physically feel the fullness in my heart when I held my baby girl. I knew without any hesitation that if I was called to become a mom through adoption again, it would be my greatest honor and my blessing. As irony would have it, I would discover merely nine days later that I was pregnant (naturally) with our son, Jack.
Having waited so long to become a mom, each day with my kids was like living a dream. Using the skills I honed during that time of professional investment, I began making educational home videos that I would play for my children when I was cooking dinner or taking a rare shower. These videos included sign language, phonics, art and calming music, and my children loved them. We would also play basic educational games together. Both of my children began reading by the age of 2, which attracted the attention of friends and strangers alike. After several inquiries wondering how to buy my videos, my husband and I decided bring these videos and flashcard sets to a larger audience by creating our company Bright Signs Learning LLC. I’m proud to say that Bright Signs Learning now is a thriving and award-winning business that has brought the joy of learning to kids across the world.
Looking back at my infertility, I wouldn’t change any of it. It forever altered the way I live my life. I learned to control that which I can control and to let go of the things I can’t. I am now the mother to four beautiful children who each came to me exactly when and how they were meant to come.
Reinvesting in myself during my darkest hours resulted in the birth of my company. I am proud that my children get to see me in the role of mom AND entrepreneur. It is never lost on me that each and every day I am living out my childhood dreams of being a mom and a teacher.
Photo Courtesy of ravanelliphotography
It's the question on everyone's tongues. It's what motivates every conversation about whether or not Liz Warren is "electable," every bit of hand-wringing that a woman just "can't win this year," and every joke about menstrual cycles and nuclear missiles. Is America ready for a woman president?
It's a question that would be laughable if it wasn't indicative of deeper problems and wielded like a weapon against our ambitions. Whether thinly-veiled misogyny or not (I'm not going to issue a blanket condemnation of everybody who's ever asked), it certainly has the same effect: to tell us "someday, but not yet." It's cold comfort when "someday" never seems to come.
What are the arguments? That a woman can't win? That the country would reject her authority? That the troops would refuse to take her orders? That congress would neuter the office? Just the other day, The New York Times ran yet another in a long series of op-eds from every major newspaper in America addressing this question. However, this one made a fascinating point, referencing yet another article on the topic in The Atlantic (examining the question during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid), which cited a study by two Yale researchers who found that people were either the same or more likely to vote for a fictional male senator when told that he was ambitious; and yet, both men and women alike were less likely to vote for a woman when told that she was ambitious, even reacting with "feelings of moral outrage" including "contempt, anger, and disgust."
The question isn't whether a woman could be president, or whether a woman can be elected president – let's not forget that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than the wildly unqualified man currently sitting in the oval office – it's whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to run for president, in a pre-conscious, visceral, gut-check way. In short, it's about misogyny. Not your neighbors' misogyny, that oft-cited imaginary scapegoat, but yours. Ours. Mine. The misogyny we've got embedded deeply in our brains from living in a society that doesn't value women, the overcoming of which is key for our own growth, well-being, and emotional health.
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?
That misogyny, too, is reinforced by every question asking people to validate a woman even seeking the position. Upfront, eo ipso, before considering anything of their merit or experience or thought, whether a woman should be president, that, if given the choice between a qualified woman and an unqualified man, the man wins (which, let's not forget, is what happened four years ago). To ask the question at all is to recognize the legitimacy of the difference in opinion, that this is a question about which reasonable people might disagree. In reality, it's a question that reason doesn't factor into at all. It's an emotional question provoking an emotional response: to whom belong the levers of power? It's also one we seem eager to dodge.
"Sure, I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think my neighbor would. I'd vote for a woman, but will South Carolina? Or Nebraska? Or the Dakotas?" At worst, it's a way to sort through the cognitive dissonance the question provokes in us – it's an obviously remarkable idea, seeing as we've never had a woman president – and at best, it's sincere surrender to our lesser angels, allowing misogyny to win by default. It starts with the assumption that a woman can't be president, and therefore we shouldn't nominate one, because she can't win. It's a utilitarian argument for excluding half of the country's population from eligibility for its highest office not even by virtue of some essential deficiency, but in submission to the will of a presumed minority of voters before a single vote has ever been cast. I don't know what else to call that but misogyny by other means.
We can, and must, do better than that. We can't call a woman's viability into question solely because she's a woman. To do so isn't to "think strategically," but to give ground before the race even starts. It's to hobble a candidate. It's to make sure voters see her, first and foremost, as a gendered object instead of a potential leader. I have immense respect for the refusal of women like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and pioneers like Carol Mosley-Braun, going as far back as Victoria Woodhull, to accede to this narrative and stick to their arguments over the course of their respective campaigns, regardless of any policy differences with them. It's by women standing up and forcing the world to see us as people that we push through, not by letting them tell us where they think we belong.
One of the themes I come back to over and over again in my writing is women asserting independence from control and dignity in our lives. It's the dominant note in feminist writing going back decades, that plea for recognition not only of our political and civil rights, but our existence as moral agents as capable as any man in the same position, as deserving of respect, as deserving of being heard and taking our shot. What then do we make of the question "is America ready for a woman president?" Is America ready? Perhaps not. But perhaps "ready" isn't something that exists. Perhaps, in the truest fashion of human politics, it's impossible until it, suddenly, isn't, and thereafter seems inevitable.
I think, for example, of the powerful witness Barack Obama brought to the office of president, not simply by occupying it but by trying to be a voice speaking to America's cruel and racist history and its ongoing effects. By extension, then, I think there is very real, radical benefit to electing a chief executive who has herself been subject to patriarchal control in the way only women (and those who others identify as women) can experience.
I look at reproductive rights like abortion and birth control, and that is what I see: patriarchal control over bodies, something no single president has ever experienced. I think about wage equality; no US president has ever been penalized for their sex in their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I look at climate change, and I remember that wealth and power are inextricably bound to privilege, and that the rapacious hunger to extract value from the earth maps onto the exploitation women have been subject to for millennia.
That's the challenge of our day. We've watched, over the last decade, the radicalized right go from the fringes of ridicule to the halls of power. We've watched them spit at the truth and invent their own reality. All while some of our best leaders were told to wait their turn. Why, then, all this question of whether we're ready for something far simpler?
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?