On Tuesday morning, my small office’s regular staff meeting took place in the plaza in front of the Supreme Court building in San Francisco, under a chuppah, amongst hundreds of waving rainbow “marriage” signs. We were awaiting the news from the court about Prop 8, which, in November of last year, banned same-sex marriage in the state of California, after it had been approved by the justices in May, 2008. Though expectations were not high that the court would reverse the ban, the mood in the plaza was hopeful, joyous, and full of anticipation.
That morning, I’d had a fight with my three year old. I didn’t know that one could fight with a three year old until I became a parent of one. We fought about the washcloth. I keep a washcloth beside the sink in the girls’ bathroom. I use it to wash the yucky stuff out of their eyes and the crust from around their mouths (a casualty of the pacifiers), each morning. Now, this is a good washcloth. It prevents the waste of many tissues (which saves trees!) But it must be used appropriately. I use only a very small corner at a time, so that it can be re-used, and, most importantly, can dry quickly. Because if it gets too wet, it begins to emit a nasty, damp washcloth smell. Then it is a bad washcloth. The smell, like the ring in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, sticks to everything it touches, including fingers, dolls, shoes, and toothbrushes. I find myself doing a load of laundry just to clean it. That wastes water, which is very bad for the trees. So, you will understand why, when, that fateful morning, my three year old was at the sink, cold water rushing around her, the washcloth soaked, dropping torrents of water on the counter, the floor, and the baby, I was not a happy mother. I know, and knew even then, that I should praise her for her independence. And talk calmly. But I grabbed the washcloth. And berated her. And gave her a time-out. And she cried, and I yelled, and a door got slammed. And I went to work with shame in my heart, and stood, in the hot sun, with people shouting, “we want justice,” thinking about my daughter.
The court upheld the ban while preserving the 18,000 marriages made between May and November of last year. The crowd immediately mobilized. It boo-ed. It chanted “shame on you.” And then a man with a megaphone organized a march, shouting out street directions, as people, peacefully, full of emotion, hand in hand, began to walk in protest. I was overwhelmed. If a passionate crowd of brutally disappointed people could respond civilly, its dignity intact, then why was I losing it over a washcloth?
My friend lent me a book: “How to Talk So Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I liked the first sentence very much: “I was a great parent before I had children.” I read the first chapter, and, the next morning, the protests were more peaceful, from both our ends. We’ll see. In the meantime, I keep marching.