Speaking of speaking up

Turkey leftovers are dwindling, but I’ll long be grateful for two gifts my children bestowed this Thanksgiving week.

Star in journal

Audrey’s Brownie project

Audrey’s Brownie troop did a project about their families in which each girl was asked to list the talents of each person. Here’s her page »

When I saw she’d listed my talent as “speaking up,” I smiled. I imagined she was thinking of the political activism she’s seen frequently this year, from multiple marches (Women’s March, supporting a free press, and Earth Day/climate change awareness) to the anti-gerrymandering petition signature collection crusade I’ve been on since August. (She was gracious even when that slowed down her trick-or-treating, since I asked almost every household for a signature after she collected her candy.)

Then the second gift arrived, courtesy of my son: After nearly 11 months of working with Emma, a retired guide dog to try and overcome his acute dog anxiety, this week he finally got up the nerve to give her a treat. It came out of the blue, and at his initiation after weeks upon weeks of simply petting her. He still mostly pets her on the back; the head is a lot harder, which was why giving the treat was so amazing. Using the technique of gradual exposure, we’d worked up to petting from standing on the porch together, up to that from standing in the driveway, up to that from getting out of the car, and up to that from doing a drive-by. It’s that hard for him. What makes it doable is that Emma is always on a leash, which is his reassurance she’s under control. As his advocate, another thing I find myself speaking up about are our community’s leash laws.

Audrey’s often around for these conversations, too, which occur in a park or on a hiking trail or at school pick-up, when Owen is petrified by a dog who’s been allowed off-leash. Unlike the political resistance, it’s hard. I hate being regarded as a kill-joy by the dog owners, who reflexively respond, “s/he’s friendly” or “s/he wouldn’t do anything,” both of which miss the point. Yet while we work to rationalize his anxiety, my son’s right to be out in his community without fear supersedes my discomfort. So I gird myself for the eye rolls and speak up.

As I thought about both events, which occurred as our country was engulfed in another wave of “me, too” revelations, I started to see how they dovetailed into what I’m most thankful for: exemplifying speaking up, even when it’s hard. For both kids, but especially my daughter. Frankly, lot of people regard speaking up not as a talent, but something to be squashed, especially in a woman. Look at the years it took so many of the women now coming forward, who still endure skepticism to personal humiliation to career damage.

Will awareness of speaking up as a talent — or skill, really — prevent Audrey from having her own “me, too” story someday? Will it unburden her from the pay gap? Those outcomes don’t depend solely on the skill of  speaking up. But my heart swelled that I can equip her to meet those challenges. Who knows, maybe help change them, too.

Mother-daughter at the Earth Day/Climate Change Awareness march in Traverse City, April 2017. Sign reads: We only get one.


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