Last fall, I was at a cross country meet, seven months pregnant, perched atop a hill in the woods, screaming as loudly as I could for the girls on my team as they passed by about a third of the way into the race. A spectator, either someone’s clueless dad or a pedestrian who’d set out for a walk in the park and stumbled across this race in the forest, chortled (really the only word for it) at me: “I hope you’re not in high school.”
Before I could reconsider the words, I was speaking: “Really?” I asked, “as though my life wouldn’t already be hard enough if I were pregnant in high school, and then on top of that, you say something to me?” Infuriatingly, he just laughed again. He wasn’t an evil man, and I don’t think he consciously set about to provoke me. It’s hard to articulate exactly what set off this rage, though certainly it was rooted in the notion that I was about to be the mother of a daughter. While I hope for her own ease of living that she does not find herself pregnant as a high school student, that she could be felt profoundly important.
Last year, I was on a run with the girls on my team, when one asked me, “are you a feminist?” I explained that I was and felt a new sort of comfort in saying so as a new mom. I had a teacher, a new mom herself, who made me proud to call myself a feminist. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Happy. Strong. Independent. Loving. By the time my athlete asked me if I’d call myself a feminist on that run, I had a lot of the same outward signs that have made that teacher’s feminism cool. So, I didn’t just say yes, I launched into it. About what the word feminist means, about how I couldn’t believe that in 2015, there are still–many–young women who are afraid or ashamed or unwilling to call themselves feminists.
I follow a lot of the unofficial dogma of conscious, feminist moms in 2015. No shirts emblazoned with “Daddy’s little princess/muffin/sweetheart”–no shirts emblazoned with anyone’s anything for that matter. I don’t dress her like a come-to-life themed baby Barbie. Her room is teal and yellow. A solar system mobile hangs over her crib.
There are also a lot of ways I’ve fallen short of what I imagine the ideal feminist mom is. I was unable to breastfeed exclusively. Not into baby-led weaning. I left teaching–exuberantly–when Thea was born.
Today I was running with Thea in the jogging stroller. We began to close in on a man trotting along in front of us. As I’m in the habit of doing to assuage my guilt over toting Thea along on runs potentially against her wishes, I pointed out birds, dogs, waves on the beach and shouted an occasional “wheeee!” when we picked up speed on a downhill. When we got close enough that the guy in front of us could hear my feet slapping or Thea squealing, he turned back and immediately picked up the pace. He started to sprint, looking behind him every minute or so to reassure himself that we were receding in the distance.
I went for it. I doubled down, told Thea we were in a race, and pumped the one arm that wasn’t steering the stroller harder. We couldn’t get him. It sort of felt like I was racing that same man from last fall, only both of us reborn into new forms. Me with Thea riding in front instead of nestled inside, him taunting me on my run instead of while I coached. What a tool, I keep thinking.
Yeah, I still think what a tool. But I also feel less annoyed or wounded and more fiercely protective, impassioned even. Me and Thea–we’re in this together.