I hate feeding my 18-month-old daughter. In the first few months after we introduced solid foods to her diet, I’d shrink away during meal times, allowing my husband to lead the task.
What if, I’d wondered, I teach her to eat wrong?
What if she can see how much food scares me?
What if I break her in the ways I know I’m broken?
There is so much about being a parent that makes me anxious. There’s the scraped knees and stomach bugs, yes.
But my deepest worries revolve around mothering a daughter in a society that continues to demand women and girls practice and prioritize outward kindness while allowing us to internalize blame and shame for any of our perceived imperfections.
For me — a recovering anorexic who was raised by a recovering anorexic; someone who learned to hate her body before she learned long division — this means that I struggle once again at dinner time. Years after I thought I’d finally found peace at the table.
I do not want my daughter to have to climb the mountain of self love every day the way so many of us begin our mornings knowing we must do. I want her to start at the summit. Born there.
That means women have to change our world. We have to stop keeping our secrets secret. We have to stop allowing our efforts to appear effortless. We have to amplify our whispers. To be louder, so we can be seen and heard.
Isn’t that a terrifying thought?
A steady stream of support
I’ve spent the last few hours reading through more than 100 pages of emails Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo received since her announcement earlier this month that she is taking a leave of absence to seek medical treatment for depression in an out-of-state facility. These emails, along with a smattering of greeting cards and a log of supportive voicemails, landed in my inbox this morning as a result of a public records request I filed after her announcement.
I wondered: What could I learn from the messages sent to a woman whose very existence has been a lightning rod since she first appeared on the scene in 2018, at the age of 27, in what appeared at the time to be a long-shot campaign for county judge?
Within minutes of sending out her statement, Hidalgo’s inbox, I now know, began pinging with encouragement.
“It was a brave action to share this situation and I applaud you for doing so,” one constituent wrote within the hour. “Perhaps it will prompt others to seek help instead of hiding in the dark suffering.”
Hidalgo comes off, in many ways, as an impenetrable force. She surprised nearly everyone by winning her race, and becoming the first Latina ever elected to serve as the chief executive and emergency manager of the nation’s third-largest county. I still remember the gobsmacked tones of some of the early articles — both locally and nationally — about her victory. I remember thinking then, “Would they frame it this way if she was a man?” and “What would they say if she was a white man?” We love a boy genius almost as much as we love to spot imperfections in ambitious women.
So she donned her armor. The rare public looks into her personal life included photos of her training and competing in triathlons. I’m sure I wasn’t the only woman who wondered: How did she find the time to do the thing I know I can never do, while also representing more than 4 million people?
It felt so aspirational and effortless. Unattainable.
And then came her announcement earlier this month, via statement: “My experience has been difficult, but I am taking it as an opportunity to be open about my own struggle, my own challenges, and to encourage others, who need help, to seek treatment.”
There is value in knowing that the things that can look so easy to an outsider might be just as hard for someone like Hidalgo as they are for the rest of us.
‘Openness and honesty’
“I know one email from a nobody won’t make much of a difference,” one constituent wrote on Aug. 11, four days after Hidalgo’s announcement.
That writer, who says they also struggled with mental health issues for many years, told Hidalgo: “There are thousands of people across the county that feel a little better about themselves this week as they struggle with mental health issues and depression. They feel better because of your openness and honesty about what you are dealing with.”
Even a self-described nobody knows the truth: Nobody’s a nobody. And one email that bridges a connection between two people can banish thoughts of isolation.
Hidalgo did, of course, receive some hate in her inbox.
“Know cares,” one constituent began an email to Hidalgo (I assume they meant “no one” cares.) The email continued: “You are not taking care of business like you should of [sic] been. Be glad when we can get you out of office. Your [sic] to [sic] young for this job.”
But that note was one of fewer than a handful among the 123 emails I pored through this morning — a surprising ratio given that Hidalgo barely won her re-election last November, eking out a victory by only 2 percentage points.
The flames of hope
I’m not going to speculate about what went through Hidalgo’s mind as she crafted her statement informing her constituents that she had to take time off. But I know the feeling that pulsed through my body 900 words ago, as I began my own admission.
More what ifs.
What if people don’t understand?
What if this is just proof that I’m not as good as so many other people out there?
What if people are mean to me after they read this?
I was filled with fear. But reading through these emails this morning reminded me that the darkness of fear is best overcome by fanning the flames of hope.
So let us hope that we can be the versions of my Harris County neighbors I see in these emails. The ones that whisper their shared experiences, below subject lines of “Prayers” and “Sending appreciation and encouragement.”
The ones that say it’s OK to admit that we need support while walking through this complicated world. The ones who reach out and offer to be part of that support system.
These are the conversations that will build pathways toward the world I envision for my daughter. The conversations that will help us change the world. These are whispers in someone’s inbox that say: “You can do this. I can do this. We can do this.”
What if we made these whispers the soundtrack to our society?
What if we remembered to be kind out loud?
What if we changed the entire world this way?