The other evening Seth and I were sitting around talking about a variety of things when I made a comment about how I wanted to start running again.
“I could probably start going back down to the trail and running in the mornings…” My voice trailed off as I reconsidered saying what I was about to say. “I just feel a little uncomfortable going there now. I don’t know -”
“I, as your husband, don’t feel comfortable with you going down there.”
“I don’t know. Ever since we had the boys, I’m so scared of doing things. Things I never would have thought twice about before. It’s fucking frustrating. I used to go down to that trail and run it in the mornings before the sun came up. I would go down in the evenings and sometimes the sun would set before I got back to my car. I never thought once about it.”
“It’s scary down there. Remember when we saw the guy in the trees?”
I remember that morning like it was yesterday. Shortly after Matty was born, I took him and Seth to this trail, tucked away in the middle of the city, that I used to run daily before I had kids. The trail – snuggled between a patch of trees dividing a commercial parking lot, a pristine golf course, a quaint neighborhood and winding below busy roadways – was, at the time, a little over three miles long. I would park towards one end, run to the opposite end and then back again. This particular day, an unseasonably chilly morning in late spring, we planned to do the same thing.
The trees were in early bloom, making it easier to make out the vacant commercial lot in the elevated distance. As we approached a second tunnel under a busy roadway, I noticed a well-camouflaged figure three quarters of the way up the embankment. There was a man, sitting as still as possible against the base of a tree, looking down onto the trail. It was the type of quietly, crisp morning where voices carried and even a leisurely walker’s footsteps sounded heavy, so I said nothing. After we cleared the tunnel I whispered to Seth about the man in the trees. Unable to paint the picture beyond, ‘It was kind of fucking creepy’ Seth laughed a little and continued on with our then-typical conversations about how cute and big Matty was getting.
Twenty minutes later we passed under the tunnel and past the man again. Seth, not being the most subtle, looked very obviously in the man’s direction to see if he too could spot him. Too far away to make clear eye contact and camouflaged with his light gray shirt, the man remained still, his body facing us. Shortly after we passed, Seth whispered something under his breath and turned suddenly back around to take another look. This time, knowing for certain he had been spotted, the man dove to the ground to hide amongst the trees and the brush. The sound of crushing leaves and snapping branches as he hit ground echoed through the air.
One month later, the local news station ran a story about a woman who had been jogging on that same trail when a pantless man began chasing her, exposing himself and masturbating after her. The woman, not having her phone, ran to a nearby house and called 911. Prior to children, I probably would have thought the incident – had I been fortunate enough to catch the local news that day – was creepy, at best. But, knowing me, I would have continued running the trail because, you know, ‘That will never happen to me’.
But now, whenever I hear any story about any woman, parent or child, I think ‘What if that was me? What if that was Seth? What if that was my child?’ And while I want to say something like ‘The world is an absolutely beautiful place but through the lens of a cautious mother, it’s also terrifying’ and leave it at that, I can’t. I’ve tried. Truth is, I’ve been working on this piece since this conversation happened – over a week ago. And it’s fine but for some reason, a reason I didn’t really – and still don’t – know how to approach, I mentally found it nearly impossible give it a nicely gift-wrapped, Hallmark ending.
Every time I re-read it, everything just sounded so ridiculous.
Like, wow – congratulations to me, I can’t go running on a trail I used to enjoy because an old man might jump out of the bushes and run after me while trying to jack himself off. I mean, really? I just told a detailed story about what was probably a drunk homeless man in the trees trying to mind his own business as if it was an excerpt out of a fucking Stephen King novel! Sometimes I just blow my own mind.
I could be raising a child in a war torn country; I could be a product of my upbringing, paralyzingly poor and unable to provide for my family while also trying to kick an addiction handed down by a strung out mother who didn’t care to not use while I was pregnant. I mean, I could be black. I could be a Mexican immigrant. I could be in SO MANY other places – that are literally impossible for me to imagine because they’re that bad – in comparison to where I am (which, right now in this moment, is basically a fucking oasis of perfection so there’s that).
Sometimes, I can write about wanting to send my kids to the best schools and I can ask other moms to share how they chose where and how to educate their kids because in general, it’s interesting and I genuinely do want to know – and I think a lot of moms I know do too. But other days, I roll my eyes so heavily at myself that it’s a surprise I haven’t fallen over backwards and hit my head so hard I became Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty. Because I mean, let’s be real, it is 100% a privilege to be able to CHOOSE where your kids go to school and what quality of education they get. It’s a privilege to be able to have the choice to workout elsewhere in an attempt to lose baby weight. Fuck, it’s a privilege to have time to worry about the fucking baby weight – or any weight for that matter – as if it’s a national disaster.
I consider myself open minded and inclusive. I am vehemently against discrimination and outspokenly so. I feel an overwhelming obligation to stand up and speak out for those who can’t do so for themselves. Just this year I’ve raised over a thousand dollars for causes in an effort to support the Dreamers in this country, to support the women’s rights movement and to advocate for better reproductive healthcare; I’ve marched in two marches and every day I strive to raise two young men who will be better than me, who will strive to make a larger impact than I ever could. And while all of that is good and fine, I was able to do that because I’m privileged enough to do so. I’m privileged enough to have a college education that has allowed me to have a career where I’m not required to work on Saturdays so I could partake in the marches. I’m privileged enough to know people who have the ability to donate to causes I chose to support last minute via Facebook for my birthday. I’m privileged enough to be able to afford to enroll my boys into a high quality early childhood program where I can assure they’re safe, educated the way they deserve (and, in my opinion, all kids deserve) to and given a foundation that will lend itself to getting into college, making a deeper impact and giving back later in their lives.
I haven’t had the easiest life, I don’t come from a rich family and not everything has been handed to me but none of those are requirements for being privileged. I am naively privilege and while there’s nothing I can do about it, there are a lot more things I can do with it. There are so many negative side effects to all of the events that have happened and started trending over the past couple of years – fear being one of my biggest – but, for me, this collective realization and ongoing dialogue that I and so many other people are having about privilege is a pretty bright silver lining. The more we can identify our own privilege, the more we can start to help others, the more we can learn and the more humility we can gain. I’m still learning and figuring out the balance but just being able to see it, even though admittedly it is really fucking annoying, is really incredible.
I will still write my stories and share my thoughts and sometimes they’ll probably sound like I’ve hopped on the back a privileged pony to take a ride across a rainbow but just know, I know and I’m working on it.