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Mothering in real-time
by Jane Hammons


Our household is full of talk -- politics, the arts, ethics and values -- but not every moment leads to analysis or debate. Shortly before his death from a stroke in 2004, my sons' father, chronically unemployed and on the verge of becoming homeless, told them that he wished the Catholic Church had a job opening for a hit man to kill all the women who had had abortions. That was a job he'd like to have. When my older son tells me this, I am literally speechless. "That's crazy talk, isn't it?" he says.

"Yes," I answer quietly and draw him near. "It is." This is not a moment for a discussion of abortion rights, but merely for consolation.

When we watched Nancy Pelosi pound that gavel as the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House, I saw her in that way: the first woman. And while my sons recognize the significance of that fact, the event was equally meaningful to them because when Pelosi invited children to the podium, for the first time, they saw people like themselves in picture as well. At ages 16 and 17, my sons now have a far deeper and more global understanding of the lives of women and children than I did at their age. I feel certain that they would not use the word feminist to describe themselves, but nonetheless, they have a growing awareness of the fact that the welfare of children is often tied to the political power of women.

It has been almost a decade since our first discussion of Hillary Clinton when my older son asks, "Are you going to vote for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman?"

"No," I answer honestly. "I haven't decided who I'll vote for or why. I wouldn't vote for her just because she's a woman." But I do confess to him that the first time I was eligible to cast a vote was in the primary election of 1972. And I did vote for Linda Jenness of the Socialist Worker's Party precisely because she was a woman. And I still feel a certain amount of pride, while also acknowledging my naiveté, for voting this way. The movement was young. Women on ballots -- especially in New Mexico -- were scarce. George McGovern, who I would vote for in the presidential election, didn't need my help in the primary. (And nothing was going to help him in the national election.)

My son won't be old enough to vote in the 2008 primary, but he will be able to cast his first vote in the 2008 presidential election. At this point he has declared allegiance to John Edwards. Although he knows Edwards has little chance of being the Democratic Party's nominee for President, he was impressed by Edwards's appearance at a labor rally for workers at UC Berkeley. And regardless of the $400 haircuts, Edwards represents to my son the ideas he considers to be at the core of differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties: a commitment to the working class and improving the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. These are values that readily appeal to my son, and I am proud of him for that. My younger son, several years from voting age, is a fan of Barak Obama. As an actor, he finds Obama's presence impressive and believes that Obama represents a new direction, telling me that baby-boomers are responsible for what is wrong with the world.  Needless to say, we have a lot of heated discussions about this. Just as second-wave feminists did not make the world a perfect place for women and children, baby boomers did not rid the world of all the problems they pledged, as young idealistic people, to address.

Much work remains to be done. I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking for a woman to lead the way as the work continues. Whether or not that woman is Hillary Clinton remains to be seen.

Mmo : November 2007

Jane Hammons teaches writing at UC Berkeley where she is the recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award. Some of her writing can be found online at River Walk Journal, Slow Trains Literary Magazine, and Word Riot. She is also the Senior Editor of Mom Writer's Literary Magazine.

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