Last month I caught myself doing some Subtly Problematic Parenting.
R2 had been playing with a flower, tugging at the petals.
I cut the little pink cosmo from our garden earlier that day, and placed it in a teacup on the kitchen table.
It had maybe a couple days left before it drooped. But it classed up the joint. Made me feel like a fancy Instagram mom. Like I had mastered chaos and, within the confines of my kitchen table, I had a small part of my life figured out. Nailed it.
As he tugged, I heard my mom's voice work its way out of my brain and out of my mouth on its own. It was an indelible script parroted from countless moments of my childhood - whenever I was about to get my sweaty little fingers on fancy vases and spotless windows, or even just when I glanced at them.
“Isn’t this flower so pretty? But be careful. If you touch it, you could break it.
And then it wouldn’t be pretty anymore. And then we would be sad.”
And he pulled back.
A beat passed. Something felt off.
Why….do I give any shits about pretty?
In that one thoughtless parrot, I told my son that:
1. “Pristine dead flowers on the table are more important than your spark of curiosity.”
2. “Your gentle caress taints nice things and ruins them."
3. "You contain the potential for unwelcome destruction and mayhem”* (the bad kind.)
3. “I value passive, do-nothing niceties over victimless risk, discovery, and experimentation.”
*I mean my little dude DOES contain potential for destruction and mayhem and he practices it on the reg, and yes often the bad kind. But more often the good kind.
Why do we fear destruction?
I LOVE that my kids are willing to rip shit down when things aren’t working. This is one thing I am super, super proud of even though I know it kind of makes them a nightmare for their exhausted teachers. (Sorry teachers! We are still working on appropriate timing!)
My kids raise holy hell when confronting broken systems, toxic social situations, grooming, and injustice. They let things go when things are hurting - sunk costs be damned.
They don’t care about being nice or pretty, or quiet. They don't gorge themselves for the sake of clean plate or obsess over perfect artwork.
They care about being kind and courageous human beings - which right now, in this world, requires a lot of bear-poking, uncomfortable (“rude”) questions, and outspoken defiance.
Our walls are proudly covered with a LOT of very ugly artwork. We love our broken, second-hand toys the most. We break things and it's...it's just fine.
Of all the things I could teach my dude, it should be that priority 1 is NOT some instagrammy teacup flower
My top priority should be HIM.
Within HIM, I mean the constellations of potential within him - ALL of him - his potential to destroy and re-build, to experiment and analyze, his ability to risk and learn from experience. To get into the ugly. To fuck up.
I mean like - THIS is how we smash injustice! We don’t just wait around, hands gently folded in our laps, looking at pretty flowers.
It’s our duty to break things apart to see how they work.
Particularly if something is off.
No wait. BEFORE something is off.
It’s our duty to scale the walls and upend the furniture and ask rude questions and turn the world upside down and hold up the line until we are positive everyone is doing okay.
That’s the only way we can truly be sure that no one is left behind. And if someone is not doing okay... if we get that nagging itch in our lizard-brain that something is amiss - we need to deconstruct stuff and remember what we learned in undoing things, to know how things work so we could figure out what’s going wrong.
So we can fix it!
Inequitable power structures value the appearance of order over true justice
True justice (say it with me again: Mental Vegetable of Inclusion!) is messy and slippery and it’s like tending a garden. Things grow wild and you gotta deal with it, and then it dies back, and you gotta deal with it again, and like, I dunno aphids show up or something, and you gotta deal with those too.
And then when the frost comes, and everything dies back, we have to resist the urge to rake the dead leaves and pull the brown stems sticking up all higgeldy piggeldy out of the scrappy-looking earth.
(‘Cause that’s where gorgeous butterflies and life-sustaining bees rest for winter and put their eggs and stuff.)
Wait I think I got lost on a tangent. But while we are here, this is important: PLEASE DO NOT NEATEN UP YOUR YARD FOR WINTER UNTIL TEMPS ARE 50F+ IN THE SPRING. YOU ARE KILLING VITAL POLLINATOR BABIES.
(Climate justice means we need ugly gardens and unmowed lawns and the icky parts of wilderness. Relevant!)
I realized the years of glorious ugly education I had lost - DAMMIT what if my mom had let me touch more fragile stuff?
I don’t touch fragile stuff. Touching fragile stuff makes me SUPER NERVOUS. I drank out of plastic sippy cups in my 20's.
Because of...SPILLS! ::clutches pearls::
Now I have made baby steps and I drink out of glass jars (it's okay I got them for free with tomato sauce so breaking them is less of big deal) but STILL it keeps me at a level of mild anxiety the whole time. I get a GRIP on it and all of my concentration goes into protecting that glass from my clumsy, sweaty, destructive slightly-larger-than-before hands.
And vases? Oh heck nope nope. I won’t go near vases. Or lamps. Definitely not fancy dishes. Nope nope nope. Fragile chairs? Delicate tables? No thank you.
I’ve touched like...20? Flowers in my life. SO FRAGILE! ::backs away cautiously::
If I touch it...What if I BREAK it?!
Things could get....ugly
But what if I had been allowed to touch a fragile vase as a kid? What if I had ::gasp:: knocked it over and broken it?
Literally NOTHING (aside from maybe a traumatic memory of my mom murder-screaming at me for the rest of my life) would be different. A decade later, she ended up covering every one of hose things with spray-paint in a 90's-induced fit of taupe DIY decorating.
And then throwing them away in the 00's, because taupe is disgusting.
Things would no longer be smooth and pretty, they'd be ugly. And that would be FINE. In fact, maybe better. Maybe like, braver. And less nervously sweaty.
But arguably no worse off than being covered in taupe spray paint.
It'd be the same, except I would now be a grown-ass woman who isn’t terrified to drink out of anything other than a sippy cup.
Also - smarter people than me have recognized the vital importance of ugliness.
And surrounded with less taupe.
I really can't stress this enough, we need to cancel that color. It still haunts me.
Erm. This intro got long.
There’s a second part to this, relating to my plan to break Raising Luminaries in 2020, flip it over, analyze it, and experiment with socially unacceptable risks that could shatter stuff everywhere and fail spectacularly.
But I’ll leave that for next week. Wednesdayish ? (not this upcoming one. The next one), maybe.*
Click here to continue to part 2 of The Ugly Fantastic - Builders & Breakers
Leave a comment if you got thoughts.
Pssst: Does anyone else have fear of promising delivery dates because like, a freak tornado could happen that steals your computer and then AAAGH that promise is broken and you would have to die in a dumpster fire of shame??
Extra PSSSSST: Did you see at the top of the post? Patreon includes alt-text fields and captions now. NEAT.