Breaking It Down: Texas politics for a 6 year old

I Stand With Texas Women

Last week, the people of Texas stood up and in true Texan fashion, rebelled against attempted oppression. You might have somehow missed Wendy Davis’  11 hour filibuster against SB5, which would limit health care access to millions of Texans. You also might not have seen the final minutes where Texans of all ages, races and creeds shouted down the Republican attempt to push through draconian restrictions on reproductive rights and abortion. I shared watching the livestream with over 180 thousand people, around the world, including the two most important people I know — my two sons.

Pull up a chair and sit with me for a spell, I’d like to share with you my non-traditional family, my abortion to protect that family and how I’ve explained what’s going on at the Capitol to my 6 year old son, who I will lovingly refer to as Sprite 1 to protect his privacy. (Sprite 2 is still a little young to be engaged.) Though I am profoundly enraged at what is happening in the state I love, this narrative is not about anger, it is a reflection on freedom and family.

As the events of June 25th unfolded and I watched the livestream in the living room of my co-parent’s house, Sprite 1 was curious what I found so engaging. He curled up next to me on the couch and asked why that woman was talking. I explained (and have continued to explain) that some people believe that we are born free and can make our own choices, as long as we don’t hurt others. That’s what his Mama believes. Other people believe that they know what’s best for other people and want to make rules to protect them, which his Mama doesn’t agree with. I explained that the woman on the screen had been standing for  hours, without food or water or potty breaks, to defend our right to make our own choices, for ourselves. He responded, “That’s a really long time!”

He dubbed Wendy Davis “The Superwoman”. He asked a lot of questions about why the men on the screen weren’t letting her talk and why they seemed angry. I broke it down to the best of my ability; there are rules for talking in that room, like the rules at school about talking in class, and they were arguing about the rules. We discussed beliefs and being respectful of other people’s beliefs, even if we disagree. How in our family, it’s OK to believe something, as long as you don’t hurt others (notice a theme here?). He was fascinated and sat glued to the screen, as I did. Granted, there was a lot about what we were watching that neither of us understood but the sense that something bigger than ourselves was unfolding gripped both of our attentions. That is part of parenting: letting yourself be part of something bigger than you.

I am fiercely protective of my sons, and like most mothers, would do damn near anything for their well-being. Here’s the rub – I have no legal or biological standing as their mother and with the current adoption laws in Texas, there’s a good chance won’t have that standing. “How can that be?”, you might wonder.

I met a family – my eventual chosen family. This family had just lost a wife and a biological mother to a terrible accident, a few months before. The boys, Sprite 1 and Sprite 2, were 18 months and 2 years old respectively, at the time, and very shell-shocked. I came around, helped out, held them when they cried, established firm boundaries when needed. I established routines and guidelines, it seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t want to push an agenda, I had none; so I let the boys decide what role I would take in

Sprites, Photo by Gyesika Safety

their lives. I read up on toddler trauma and grief and I tried to smile and laugh, as much as possible, so that they could have more joy in their lives.

On Mother’s Day 2010, I was standing in the living room of my co-parent’s place when Sprite 2 looked up at me and said “Mama!” Floored me. Didn’t expect it. Tried to not freak out (think that went pretty well) as I realized that, for this little boy, I was his primary female role model. On that day, I became a mother. It’s not what I expected but it works.

We are not your traditional family. Their father and I are not married, though we have an excellent co-parenting relationship. We travel, eat, and  have family time, together. We celebrate, we mourn. Our arrangement may not be traditional but our dynamic is — it’s built on love and the primary directive of the wellbeing of the children. My perspective was rocked, the moment I was called “Mama”, that first time.

That perspective continues to shift and morph last night, Sprite 1 and I sported orange shirts. We went to the Capitol, so that I could formally register my opposition to House Bill 2, before the second special session attempt to push through legislation that would harm people like me. People who are struggling, families, women, and children. People who have a right to choose what is in the best interest for themselves and their families.

Last year, I had an abortion. I wanted that child and I still mourn the child I will never have. What is not in the article is a simple fact I did not share at the time: to have the child I wanted would have been a slap in the face to the one who honored me with the title of “Mama”. I will not go into further details, for they are not mine to give, but let me be clear – only myself, their father and God knew what the right choice was and I made it. It was devastating and painful. I’m still grateful I had the option to do what was best for my family. What I wanted was secondary to what the Sprites needed.

Sprite 1 and I got to the Capitol building last night and he was awestruck by the grandor of the building itself. We wandered around, trying to find where the hearings were being held. The State Troopers and Staffers were respectful and kind to us.

Opponents of an abortion bill walk in circles around supporters of the bill as a committee holds hearings on the bill near by at the Texas state capitol, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

We got to the hearing rooms and found our friends. Then we waited in a short line so that I could register my opposition. The person manning the kiosk mentioned that the Sprite could register his opposition too. I begged off, mainly because a 6 year old isn’t able to consent to such a thing and it’s his choice, too; but cited not knowing how his father felt about it. We then went to the auditorium to watch the testimony. He found that boring and wanted to take pictures and clap. We watched the protestors, both in orange and blue.

He had many questions: “Why are the people in blue singing?”, “Where’s the Superwoman, Mama?”, “Why are all these people here?”, “Is Jesus here?”, “What’s freedom?”.

I’m not a teacher or a civics scholar, and breaking down what we were seeing and experiencing to a 6 year old was challenging. We talked a lot about our choices and that we get to make them, even the bad ones (a concept we talk about when he makes bad choices, like pinching his brother to get a toy). We talked about the rules Mama and Papa (and other adults) have to follow and how we get to choose what rules we want, in this country. We discussed freedom of speech, bodily autonomy, and most of all, our ability to choose.

When you limit someone’s ability to choose, you don’t just limit bad choices, you limit good choices too. My 6 year old understands this concept. He also understands that we have a right to make those choices. When someone tells me what is best for me and the people I love, without knowing anything about our special family, they are limiting my ability to care for the mental and emotional health of the people I love. Sprite 1 asked me today “What is ‘special’?”.

“Buddy, ‘Special’ is our differences that make us interesting.” I believe that in our country, what makes us special is that we honor those differences, celebrate them and let people flourish and choose for themselves.