Being a Mom when throw up happens, being a woman when sexism is rampant.

“Jack, are you O.K.? What did you put in your mouth?” I ask. We’re in Target, drool is trickling down the side of Jacks mouth, his eyes are starting to water. I think he’s choking; until his mouth opens wider and a grey liquid comes spilling out. I recognize chunks of bell pepper, mushrooms, and a greenish color, from the pizza and pesto pasta the night before. He throws up again, this time revealing lunch, pieces of seaweed land on the plastic dump truck, getting stuck inside the cardboard box edges, (We’ll have to buy this one I think) The liquid covers the red plastic cart, splatters on the floor. Fiona looks at Jack in shock. A woman looks at me in shock, as if I could have prevented this from happening. “Oh my god” I say. One lady with a baby offers to give me her baby wipes. “No thank you, I think I’m going to need more than baby wipes” I say. She says “O.K., I’ll stay clear” not wanting to infect her baby. I stand there for a minute, I ask someone in the cell phone sales area, “Do you work here?” They don’t really, but they call for help and get me a plastic bag I ask for to put the throw up clothes in. People pass with a wide berth looking at my situation. One lady says, “I’ve been there”. I stand with a smile on my face just waiting until I can move Jack and Fiona and start cleaning up. I don’t want to dislodge any throw up from where it sits right now. I don’t want throw up on me! A Target employee finally arrives with a large plastic bag, a bunch of paper towels, a spray bottle of blue cleaning solution. I get to work. When the woman first came out she had this look on her face like, “Oh this job really sucks!” But after she realized I was going to handle this, I wasn’t going to make her help me clean it, she softened her stance. I went into taking care of business mode, stripped the clothes off the babies, wiped, scooped, spayed, getting every last bit of throw up off the cart and the floor. “You might need to spray down the straps though” I say. “The throw up gets stuck in them and the stink never goes away” This happened to our high chairs, that smell never did go away even though I washed them many times. I put the babies back in the cart. “Jack are you going to throw up again?” I ask. He says he is O.K., so I decide to take my chances and finish shopping. I feel crazy doing this, but I’m already here and my carts half way full already. This morning I can still feel the moment, the “Oh shit, we all just shared the same water bottle”, wondering if Fiona and I are next.

On the way to Target I was listening to the news, the recent news of Trump and the woman he “Octopus armed” on the airplane. It reminded me of a similar situation I was in, but mine took place on a Greyhound Bus. I was on my way to Wyoming, I had the window seat. A guy sits next to me, (which always happened on the Greyhound). We talk during the day, he’s from Detroit, he tells me about the Car manufacturing business, how it’s all getting shut down. I listen in earnest, something I’ve always done. I like listening to what people have to say, hearing their stories. Sometimes men have misunderstood this quality and take it as me “Being interested”. I got tired of listening to this particular person though, he became boring. As the day turned into night I pretended I was asleep. The guy put a blanket over both of us, slid his hand under the blanket and up my t-shirt and started feeling my boobs. At first I continued to pretend I was sleeping, I figured he would lay off. I figured I could just let him get a feel and he’d leave me alone. He didn’t let up, he got more into it, he tried to kiss me, he had really bad breath. That’s when I finally said “leave me alone”. He was mad, I couldn’t wait till he got off the bus. I was eighteen when this happened. As a kid growing up I had several encounters similar to this, which would be classified more as molestation I guess, since they were grown men and I was a child. One time I was in the back of my dad’s pick-up truck, his friend was with me. We were laying down with a blanket over us because it was illegal for us to be riding in the back like that. The man reached his hand under my shirt and started feeling my under-developed ten-year-old boobs. I never told anyone.  Another time my mom left me with one of her friends while she went to her  class at Grossmont College. He was teaching me racquetball. I was twelve years old. He stood behind me spread my legs and stuck his hand up my little green terry cloth shorts my mom brought me back from Acapulco. I was paralyzed. Thank god my mom came back soon. I went to the bathroom and found a Band-Aid stuck to my butt, it fell off his finger when he was molesting me. I never told anyone. The stories go on and on for me, men feeling me up, grabbing me, pressuring me to have sex, one of my professors getting me to come over to his house to “help me with my paintings” then asking me to kiss him. He was old and this might be his last chance he told me. He asked if I would sleep with him. I was so disappointed. I looked up to him. Then I found out how many other women students he tried that with. I never told on him though.

My mom was a strong woman. She was a feminist. She didn’t raise me in princess outfits or to think I “needed a man” or that men had any power over me. But until I got married I still lived like men were above me, like they had power over me. Like the things they did were just natural, a natural human drive. I never thought they “crossed a boundary”. If anything it was my fault or I just erased these incidents out of my mind. I didn’t want to think of them. I went along with things I didn’t want to go along with. I wondered why. I wondered why I didn’t have more self-esteem, why I let myself get used.

This week I am seeing things in a different light. I am seeing that sexism is so engrained in our society. I wonder how we are raising our girls, the media, the toys they make for girls. The focus on being pretty for little girls, being sexy for women. It’s everywhere, it makes women powerless, even when our mothers are feminists. We need to change our collective consciousness as women, as mothers. As I turned 45 this year I felt a deep change come over me. I don’t know if it is because of all the shit I’ve been through, the soul searching and craziness I went through with infertility. I don’t know if it’s the experience of being a mother, but I finally don’t give a shit what people think of me. More specifically I don’t feel like I need to wear lipstick all the time or a bra. I don’t care if people think I’m old or ugly or un-feminine. I only wish I could have had this confidence when I was a young girl, when I was a woman in her twenties. I can only hope now to instill this self-confidence and self-esteem in Fiona and to raise Jack to be a feminist.

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist