My 5th grade Sunday School teacher called them “wordy dirds,” and when my babies were little, I tried hard, for obvious reasons, not to use them. But once in a while, events got the better of me, and out they came. One such occasion evolved out of the 2004 election season when, for the first time, I wore my politics on my car. Now, it could be that I was feeling a little conspicuous (never a comfortable place for me), and therefore a little paranoid, but I could swear there was a marked difference in the way I was treated on the road—drivers stepping on accelerators to block safe passage to another lane, or, to the other extreme, unnaturally dead stops and strangely generous passing privileges. More likely than not, drivers were simply getting from here to there in the same manner they always had, but as one who prefers a hermit’s existence (as noted by the fact that I don’t have a Facebook page, I carry an ancient slider phone with no more tech capacity than texting [so as not to have to actually talk to anyone], and I haven’t a clue what a Twitter is or how to go about such a thing), I was a little vulnerable to over-reading the situation.
Then to understand my little verbal blunder, you have to know that at the time, I was utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers when getting out of my subdivision in high traffic. Under normal circumstances, a little eye contact, a kind wave and a blinker would suffice to get me out of the Right-Turn-Only lane—the only one that would receive me at 8:00am or 5:00pm on weekdays. Not so in September 2004. And when, on one afternoon, I found myself forced to make a right turn where I’d tried desperately to steer left (my political allies nowhere to be found) the wordy dirds did fly. To be honest, it wasn’t the first time my kids heard my language slip, but it was probably my most passionate delivery. Of course, I apologized and spoke to the inappropriateness of my behavior, but, apparently, not all parental mistakes can be so easily erased. A few days after the incident, my older son who was ten at the time came into the living room and asked to speak with me:
“Mom, can we talk?”
“Sure, C. What’s up?”
My interest was naturally piqued, so I followed him to his bedroom. He plopped down on his unmade bed, and, feeling a little uncertain, I remained standing.
“Mom, how old were you when you started cussing?
My first thought—Oh, shit.
“I… um… well, you know… I was probably in my late twenties. Maybe thirties. I was a Baptist missionary, you know.”
Thoughtful pause, then, “Well… I think I’m ready.”
I was oh so tempted to the wait-till-you’re-older-it’ll-be-much-more-meaningful abstinence sort of argument, but it seemed just slightly more lame than the social consequences lecture I went for instead. No doubt, our little chat had a profound influence on C’s future decisions to cuss or not to cuss, but only two days after the election, and with tears still in my eyes, I scraped the bumper stickers off my car, deciding to take my chances on the kindness of strangers in spaces of anonymity.
As I revisit that story now, I’m struck by a couple things. First, that those acorns don’t always fall so close to the tree… thank the Universe. Little wonder that that same 10-year-old who could declare his right to express himself freely and own whatever consequences attend it, would step out with confidence at 16, then at 17 claim his intent to be the first gay president (I squelch the impulse to remind him that his mother is a teacher, and he doesn’t quite have the financial pedigree). He takes risks with minimal trepidation, mostly joy, and lives his days with passion and the most generous optimism. And although very sensitive, worries little about the world’s approval of him. He is not his mother’s child (nor his father’s).
Then there’s the bumper sticker thing. In the nine years that have passed since that conversation, I got a divorce, came out to my children, a few others of my family and friends, fell in love with a woman, and now wear four bumper stickers on my car: the HRC blue & gold equality symbol, two that announce my views on fair trade, and an Orson Wells quote about telling the truth.
Telling the truth… I’m learning what it is to both tell my truth and live my truth by degree, I suppose, and each degree seems to take me just a little bolder into the world—bolder not only with issues of gender and sexuality, but with others of the issues of our shared humanity. On average, a little over two years of truth per bumper sticker.
Who knows? By the time I tell my parents I’m gay, I might even have a Facebook page.