Friday, March 4, 2011

A letter from a feminist/first generation college student to her parents

Dear Mom & Dad,

I love you a lot. And I appreciate how supportive you've been, both financially and emotionally. Despite all your good intentions though, there are still a lot of misunderstandings between us. So hear me out:

School is really important to me. I transferred to Wayne State because for a number of reasons I don't feel we need to go over again, things fell apart at SVSU. I moved in with you so I could stay in school and save money, which is something I thought would make all of us happy. But I feel that the money I earn babysitting is more important to you than school is, even if you'd never say it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against earning money. I lived in Saginaw for three years. Students have soul-draining jobs to defray the cost of school. The economy is terrible; life is life. And given what my interests are, I think it's important to have worked jobs like that so I can understand people who rely on those types of jobs to make a living.

But both of you need to understand that right now, earning money is not priority #1. School is. And even though I love it, it's not a hobby. Mom, you said something to me recently about how I need to suck it up and stop hating my job because my whole life will be like that, and I'd better get used to it.

Dad, your whole life has been like that. But I'm in school because I'd like mine not to be. I know that you worked 80 hours per week because you had a wife and kids to support. I am grateful to you for that. But even though I'm the same age as you were when you started working that hard, you need to see that I'm not in the same position. I am single, for one thing. And childless. And gay. The list goes on.

Abundant idealism aside, I am also, somehow, decently realistic. Maybe I inherited that from you. I don't expect to graduate and get a job that I love right away. But I'm willing to do the work to hopefully get me somewhere where I can do something other than babysit or clean houses or work as an aide in a preschool or anything else I've done so far.

And so you need to understand that as much as I enjoy school, it is work. I'm more than willing to help out around the house. But it bothers me that of the four of us who live here, I'm the one who is always expected to drop whatever she's doing at the drop of a hat when the dishes need to be done, just because I always have my nose stuck in a book. I still have to have that book read within a certain frame of time. And reading, though enjoyable, is time-consuming. Especially when you're planning to write a research paper on it later.

I get that you're scared. Your kids are both grown, and you want to see us move on with our lives so you can move on with yours. But our lives are different than yours. I'm in college. Neither of you went to college. So already, there's a huge difference in our respective versions of reality. And that's exactly why it's unreasonable to gripe about how I'm not going to graduate in a typical four-year time frame while trying to convince me not to take summer classes in favor of earning as much money as possible.

Now, my majors/interests: Those scare the shit out of you too, no doubt. I get that you're afraid of seeing me go off the "Commie deep end" or something. Understand, though, that my intentions are as good as yours. People that both you and I respect see what I believe in as a good thing. You only see what I do as "militant" or "extremist" because your God-fearing parents told you to believe that. You knew better than to fear God, and did not raise your kids in church (THANK YOU for that).

You never gave me a hard time about being a creative writing major. For one thing, I loved it too much to consider doing anything else (which is why, having known me all my life, you need to trust that if I'm going to go after something else, it's only because I love it just as much). And secondly, you were okay with it because creative writing seemed neutral to you. I mean, your kid spent her childhood up in her room, writing. Can't cause too much damage doing that.

But take a closer look at what I wrote about. It isn't like I went to SVSU and had one conversation with someone who "turned me into a feminist" overnight. It is something that has tugged at me my entire life. I got it from examining how much we differed from other families in Grosse Pointe, and wondering why the hell it is that we live here. I got it from seeing the literal brick wall that exists along Alter Road on the border of Grosse Pointe and Detroit. And I got it from moving to Saginaw and realizing that it's really no different there, either. There was so much unfairness right in front of me, wherever I went. How could I not take notice? Now that I'm aware of it, how can I let it be? You should be proud of me for being moved enough by it to want to change it.

I've worked really hard to try to understand your perspective. Maybe I'm missing something: If so, let me know. But in the meantime, please try to understand mine. And know too, that it's okay to be different. Just because I didn't graduate from high school and immediately get married and have kids like you did, doesn't make me a failure. And it also doesn't mean that you're failures as parents because your kids didn't turn out the way you thought they would.


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