Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Letter to My 5 Year-Old Daughter




I’m writing this after having taken a hot hot shower. It was probably too hot and dried out my skin, but I needed it. You are playing PBS kids beside me and I have not put any makeup on yet. 

This morning I woke up to an unexpectedly sunny November day. You woke up and I immediately proceeded to tend to your needs, feed you, take you to school. Today is an early out day because of parent teacher conferences, where we will meet with your teacher later and talk about your participation in her class. We love your teacher, and we love your school. We love where we live and love the people we are neighbors with. We especially love that you are 5, that you are such a vibrant person, and so enthused to see us every day. That never gets old.

I didn’t have much motivation to get going this morning. Last night Donald Trump won the vote as President. It happened very suddenly, which I was not expecting, but probably should have. I have not really followed an election this closely. Over the past decade, since having you and finishing school, I’ve found a voice in myself that I have mostly never put forth.

I will tell you that I did not see much reason in finding my voice. You see, I am an artist, and at the beginning of my art education, I did not see how art contributed to the world, or if it even could (or how I could make it so). I saw it as a way to make beautiful things and hide behind the canvas. I think I had the beauty part of it right, but I left out the part that meant really inserting myself into my work. Many female artists are drawn to this practice, but I can relate to the fear of sharing things about themselves because it makes them vulnerable to scrutiny and attack. A good example of this is Marina Abramovic. When I was first introduced to her work I thought she was crazy. But as I learned more about what she does, though, I began to see art in a totally different way. She is fascinating. 

Anyways, despite being female and a minority, I was born into incredible privilege. Yet I still gave in to the  persistent notion that even though I had potential, I didn’t have THAT much potential. Here’s where some amazing men and women came in. My mother and father are both artists. They gave me my voice. In high school my art teacher put together my whole art school application and portfolio. Then I went to BYU. Then I married your father. 

By the way, I hope you find someone like him someday. He is in every way, my champion, my first line of defense, my hands and my feet. You helped him yesterday set up a sink trap in my studio. He knows, internally, what my potential as a woman is. I chose him for this, and many other reasons. He continues to be a tremendous source of confidence for me. I am enough of a challenge to get anyone to quit, but he shows no sign of wear. It helps that he realizes what a challenge he can be as well. 

In my journey so far, I’ve seen setbacks and advances; I’ve defeated some things and have been defeated by others. I am typically a thinker first, and a speaker last. Hence why writing this, and most things I put out on the internet, probably come across as hesitant. I had no idea that having a political opinion, or making art, would make me so vulnerable. Yet I have seen no other choice in the matter. When I’m alone, I make art (usually set to music). When I am with friends, I am creative with my interactions with them.  On my mission I used cooking as a channel for creative energy. When your cousin Henry died a few years ago, I turned to painting a nearby mountainside. Last night’s disappointing election has me here, expressing myself by writing to you. And I am posting it at the expense of not thoroughly editing it to make time for other things, for which I apologize. 

What I want to say to you is this: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”. Yes, this quote comes from Hillary’s concession speech today. And yes, I have supported her candidacy publicly, much to the chagrin of my conservative friends and family members. I feel as though my support was both too public and not public enough. This is a struggle that you may face as well (though I hope you don’t). You might have some tell you that it is not becoming for a woman to be outspoken, determined, or even define your own happiness, whilst at the same time telling you to be more outspoken, more determined, and independent. You will likely feel pressure to conform to what others tell you (even us, your parents). What I want for you the most is to be raised with courage and confidence in your ability to grow, and not in fear that you won’t be exactly what we, or others have prescribed. I want you to grow confident that God’s love for you is real, and His love for His children is real. And that that realness does not exclude anybody. That you truly can, pursue and achieve your own dreams, and not another’s. Not even mine. The thing is, just by being alive, you have already achieved my dreams. 

Recently, I went back to BYU. I tried my very best to do what I could with the education it gave me. I protested against unfair honor code policies the day before graduating. I am proud of what I did to encourage BYU to make the appropriate response and change their policy.  I was proud of my school for making an important step toward fairness and decency. This progress gave me hope, but the truth is, I want more from my school as an educational institution, and I want more from my country. 

I am mourning about yesterday’s election results. It is a direct blow to the progress that women have been striving for in this country. No, it’s not about how Trump defeated Hillary, but that Trump was elected in spite of his abuse toward women, and intolerance for marginalized groups of people. Nobody really wanted to believe we are as racist and misogynistic as we are, which is why the election came as such a surprise. 

But I look at you now and see your brightness, and your potential. And my fears dissipate. I have no choice but to think of the future, and am absolutely determined to not let my fears get the best of me. I look around me and see such strong women.  We are surrounded by diversity and contrasting colors. The world is yours and mine, and does not belong to one group of people, no matter how powerful they may be. No demagogue president can take away your fire, your spirit, or your faith. We are movers and shakers. We will continue to progress as a people, even when it scares us. I will continue to be strong for you, and for the rest of the women in my family. 

I will also try not to be an obnoxious democrat. I find great value in both conservative and liberal ideals, which I believe can work together to great effect. Yet what this election has shown me is that a great part of what drives conservative law-making is fear, and I don’t want to be a part of that. The thing is, I am so tired of being afraid. I am tired of putting my voice out of harm's way. It is time to be vulnerable and true. Therefore I post this, and I hope you come back to it and have the courage to assert yourself. I hope you have empathy for others. Don’t doubt your ability to turn the world around. 



I love you,

Mom

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you Betsy. I love you Betsy,
Mom

Ben Tengelsen said...

Right there with you Betsy. Yesterday Laura dressed our boys in black, mourning colors.

Adam and Hilary said...

Miss you and Pippa! Thank you for sharing this. much love.