My mother is a teacher at a local high school, and she’s been a Senior class sponsor for as long as I can remember. When I was about three or four years old, she took me along with the rest of her Seniors to Baltimore, Maryland for the day. On the agenda: the aquarium, the zoo, and an Orioles game. She was pushing me in my stroller when we entered the giraffe house, a large building dedicated to giraffes and only giraffes. The house was circular with a pathway going along the outside, and the giraffes in the middle of the building, separated from the onlookers by a tall circle of plexi glass. Three year old me was wildly perplexed and in awe of the greatness that stood before me. So much, in fact, that I stated to the entire giraffe house constituency “Momma, look at the size of those testicles.” Naturally the adults around me broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I was upset because I thought I’d done something wrong. My mother comforted me by assuring me that they were, indeed, testicles, and that yes, they were also very large.
I skipped soccer practice. My coach told our team that practice that day would be optional, and I wanted to go to my friend’s house instead, so I slyly told my mother that practice had been cancelled, and I would be going over to Mary’s house instead. She agreed to pick me up from there, and I thought the issue was settled.
On the way to Mary’s house, my mother drove by school and saw the JV girls soccer team practicing on the practice field (or at least the sadistic overachievers who agreed to go to an optional practice…I mean, COME ON). She drove furiously all the way to Mary’s house. When I got in the car, I didn’t even have time to explain myself. She yelled and rambled expletives the whole way home. When I got home, I was told to put on my tennis shoes and get in the car. She drove me up to the track at our local high school, and she told me that I would be running until she determined that I had run as much as I would have at practice that day. I must have run up and down that football field 60-80 times and crawled at least 4 times. I was throwing up by the end of the evening and cursing my mother all the way up and down the field.
My seventh grade class was participating in a mock election in celebration of the Presidential election that was going on at the time. My seventh grade social studies teacher informed our class that there would be an essay contest to determine who would be able to represent the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates in the mock election. She also informed us that the boys would be allowed to run for the President and Vice President positions and the girls could run to be their wives. Enraged by this, I went home and told my mother the bad news. I wanted more than anything to be President, and I had no intentions of settling to be the first lady. My mother talked through my emotions with me, but she charged me to do something about it instead of sitting around and griping about it. I was mad at my mother and I was mad at my teacher. Why didn’t my teacher know enough to understand that these project qualifications were wrong, and why didn’t my mother care enough to fight for my right to play President? That night, I wrote a letter to my seventh grade teacher that ended with the phrase “I do not aspire to be the first lady. I aspire to be the President.” That year, the mock election was cancelled.
My entire life, my mother has been teaching me how to thrive and exist in a world that would not always be fair to me. However, through her actions, and often, her silence, she has taught me how to work to achieve justice and what is right for myself and others. Moreover, she has taught me to never apologize for my intelligence (giraffe testicles), that hard work is never optional (skipping soccer practice), and to achieve justice for myself and for others by peacefully and articulately fighting my own battles (the mock election).
For these things, I am forever grateful.