Saturday, June 16, 2012

An Open Letter from a Fortunate Son

Today I read your article in the Atlantic—1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism And Make The War On WomenPossible—and thought about my own mother. She is not, and has never been, a member of the 1%. However, by carelessly defining Feminism in strictly economic terms, you manage to devalue stay-at-home mothers within all social classes. Shame.

Below is a timeline of events in my mother’s life; and while I do not believe these few completely define her, they are stories I enjoy telling, and speak to my respect and admiration for the most amazing woman I have ever had the privilege (something your bio says you know an awful lot about) to know:

1966—Lorette Mink is a junior at Benjamin-Russell High School in Alexander City, Alabama. Two rather large senior girls who graze in the hallway like bison bully her younger brother, Lynn, a 9th grader, with cruel consistency. He is ashamed to tell anyone in his family. Hearing of the daily beasts from a friend in the cafeteria one morning, my mother stops eating lunch, quietly approaches the table where they are feeding, and asks them to accompany her to the hallway. 20 minutes pass. As two faculty members are making their way back to their classes, they hear a ruckus in the women’s restroom. Inside, a girl lies beneath a stall, head cracked and nose bloodied. Inside the stall, my mother stands over the second girl, screaming incoherently, and dunking her head in toilet water. In 1966, Lorette Mink is 5’ tall, 98 pounds. Lynn goes on to serve two tours in Vietnam. At a family reunion years later, my uncle will tell me that my mother is the toughest person he has ever known.

1977--I am adopted by Lorette and Henry Mink. I am 3-months-old. The building where they claim me is in Montgomery, Alabama, marked only by a four-digit number. 

1978—I am 16-months-old. Fascinated by everything, especially potted plants, I decide it would be in my best interest to swallow a rock*. Facedown on the floor when my mother notices, she yanks me up by the ankles in one hand and desperately pounds my back with the other, dislodging the rock and saving my life. The first time.

Despite my protests, mom refuses to get this tattoo.
1981—4-years-old, leaving University Mall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where mom and I had been Christmas shopping. A pick-up truck cuts the parking lot, slamming into my mother’s Volkswagen at full bore. The car is totaled. Mom, dizzied and bloodied by the crash, mumbles to see if I am okay. I had yet to hook my seatbelt when it happened. Her hand is on my chest. In the crash, my back never lost contact with my seat. The second time.

1982—I am 5 and mom leaves a lucrative career to be a stay-at-home mom. My father pleads with her not to, that she will become bored, that she’s the type who must remain busy, that she is great at what she does. “I know,” she says, “but now I want to be my best at this.”

1986—Lorette Mink is preparing dinner in the kitchen, the front of our house. I am in the back of the house, the sunroom, allegedly watching after my baby sister, who is 3. Suddenly my mother rushes past me, kicking my Nintendo controller unplugged, interrupting my game of Metroid, and sending me into a white-hot rage. She leaps into the shallow end of our pool to rescue my sister, who is standing flat-footed on the bottom, surely wondering where the fish are. I never knew my sister was outside, and I was sitting no more than four feet from the screen door, the one she used to go exploring. In so many instances to come, I will never figure out how it is my mother knows things.

1985—3rd grade, Northington Elementary, Tuscaloosa. Do you remember when you discovered you could produce fart noises with your hand and armpit? I do. What a glorious time! The whole world before you! The time I realized this my teacher, Mrs. Wolmack, was having a particularly trying day. When I did it, and Wolmack realized I did it, she jerked me up by the arm in front of the whole class. “Do that again and I’ll beat the shit outta you,” she screamed. Mrs. Wolmack was a feminist**, you see, and she’d be damned if she was going to take this abuse from an 8-year-old. She made a paycheck, goddamnit! These stay-at-home moms were failing her! After school I got into mom’s car in tears. I had never been cursed by my folks, much less by another adult. Mom turned the car off, grabbed my hand, and marched me back into the school, to Wolmack’s classroom. She told me sit.

“Hello, Mrs. Mink, what can I do for you?”

Most of Danny's roles just involve him
playing a male version of my mom. 
My mother, a solid foot shorter than Wolmack and much lighter, moved toward her with such speed that I didn’t notice her taking actual steps. She grabbed Wolmack by the throat and put her against the wall. All that touched the ground were Wolmack’s toes.

“You want to ‘beat the shit outta’ someone, here I am. But I’m telling you right now, lady, you better bring a lot more than that paddle.”

1992—It is late on a terribly sticky September night in Brookwood, Alabama. Me (9th grade,) my buddy Ralph (a junior,) and my mom are in the driveway. Ralph and I are practicing jumpers and she is snatching boards, telling stories. It’s difficult to practice while laughing. Everyone in my high school (9% black) recently found out that Ralph is dating the prettiest girl in school, Misty. Not a problem, except that Ralph is black, and Misty is white. Around 8 p.m. a truckload of white boys and white men barrel down my street. My house is at the end of the cul-de-sac. The truck is blue. Rebel flags are hooked to both sides of the cab. They slow down in front of my house to throw beer bottles, to scream nigger lover, we’re gone whoop yer azz, and nigger loving bitch. My mother does not approach the truck, now center with the driveway. Instead, she begins to walk briskly toward the road, the cut-off point. The truck spins out, and it picks up speed as it nears my mother, who stands now in the middle of the road between the truck and our street’s exit. A horn. She does not move. You better move, nigger lover. She remains. The truck swerves, takes out a mailbox in the neighbors yard and spins away. Not a bottle is thrown at her. Not a word exits the truck as she becomes smaller and smaller in the taillights. Just mouths agape. She never budged.

Elizabeth, the problem with your article is that only in the title, and the ending, do you actually qualify your critique. You pit working women without children along with working mothers AGAINST stay-at-home mothers of all classes. It’s sloppy, and because of that, you must get touched.

Lorette Mink has shown me what’s right and what’s not in this world. She explains the why’s of when my heart is broken and points out the what the fucks when I am the breaker. All I know of sacrifice, of work ethic, of responsibility, and of goodness comes from her. My successes are a result of my mother, and my failures are a result of me wandering too far from the lessons she instilled in me. If this sounds like rhetoric, then perhaps you haven't been listening close enough when you’ve been told this before.

Many of us loathe the super wealthy. Welcome to the party, Princess. Maybe the women you mention in your article who do nothing but attend yoga classes are the wrong stay-at-home mothers to ask.

If it’s payment you require in order to judge value, consider this: I’ll ask mom to meet you in the street, to beat you six ways from Sunday, and then sit you down and listen to your problems, to offer solutions, to hug your neck and tell you how wonderful you are, how this world is a son of a bitch, and the fact that you’ve made it this long with such success, woman to woman, makes her very proud. When she’s done, I’ll pay her. Does this suffice?

This morning I called here to ask if she stands for Feminism.

“Of course. You know that. But then again, I stand most of the day. I sit down when I cut grass, though. Love that riding mower. 2 acres is too much. Does that mean I’m not a Feminist?”

“Mom, what do think of yoga?”


“Uhhh…Oh! That little green thing in Star Wars? I didn’t really care for those movies. You loved them, though. Are you eating? I want you to make sure you’re eating. You let me know if I need to send something down there.”

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

* At 5-years-old I am reunited with rock, this time burying it in my ear. In undergrad, my first slam poem involves personifying gravel. Yeah, it's a problem. 

** By Wurtzel's definition: a woman with a job resulting in monetary compensation. 

1 comment:

  1. A) Your mom is one bad ass lady. Give her props for me. Especially for cracking heads in the bathroom. Rofl.

    B) Stumbled upon this: In early 2013 Wurtzel published an article expressing regret for the choices she had made in life, including not having been married, formed a family, and bought a house. "At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24," she wrote.

    After reading her article that you quoted about 1% wives, I kinda shared your ideals. I think she was very confused and angry when writing it... because lo and behold, 6 months later, (maybe she read your letter) she seems to feel otherwise.