Pride all around the fall

It took me half of a week in San Francisco to realize it: I didn’t have much of a sense of taste anymore.


I knew this because I went to several of my favorite places and made several of my favorite dishes. As friends of mine oooooh’d and awwwww’d I wondered what was missing. I didn’t finish margaritas or glasses of wine. And finally a friend, in shock, looked at my half-full Wild Hawk cosmopolitan this week and was like “SARAH!” They hand-muddle the cranberries and recently won a national award for martini drinks. (I love my neighborhood.) It’s strange if this cosmo is “meh.” 


“Does this taste like it always does?” I asked.


“Yes!” She said.


I went home and took a Covid test even though I had no other symptoms. Negative. Another one the next day and then a few days later. Negative negative negative. 


“Do you have no taste at all, or it just doesn’t taste great?” Paul asked me. 


“Oh, I can taste it,” I said. “It just tastes muted. Not amazing. Not like San Francisco.” 


“That doesn't sound like Covid," he said, concerned. "That sounds like you're depressed."


That’s when I learned I have a whole new level of sadness/grief/whatever you call it that I’ve never experienced before. 


It was obviously not the only clue. 


I’ve been going through a lot with my family this summer. And it’s shaken one of the core bedrocks of my competence, confidence, and happiness when all else goes to sh*t. Something I felt so strong in, I wrote a GD book about it: Motherhood. 


My mother was my person. For so much of my life. She very very courageously broke so many generational traumas of the folks who came before her. She always taught me that the fact that I was pretty was the least interesting thing about me. She invested heavily in my education; encouraged anything creative as the highest use of my time; and never raised me to find a man. These were radical things in the South in the 1970s. Advantages my other female friends did not have. 


And yet, she let me down so substantially in recent years that I had to cut off any relationship with her and my kids. And now she’s spent six weeks fighting for her life and lucidity, with dementia and hallucinations, spending a lot of the time being downright abusive. 


It’s made me doubt something I never doubted before: Is it even possible to be a good mother? 


Or are we all so broken and damaged from a lifetime of inequity that we can’t possibly parent girls who are destined to also live in an unequal and broken world? 


Do we think we’ve got great mothers at a certain point in time, only to end up like me and my mom at the end?


A friend told me recently I had to separate my two moms: The one I grew up with and the one who’d failed me in recent years. 


“I can’t!” I insisted. “I cannot enjoy the privileges of love and support simply because I was cis-gendered. I cannot honor or forgive that and honor and love Eli at the same time.” 


I have a lot of friends with Instagram-friendly family posts. Who feel like they’ve been traumatized on the sly too. 


I’ve talked to several friends about this and there’s always the “You are not your mom!” And the “Eli and Evie love you so much!” platitudes. 


I know it’s heartfelt, and I appreciate it. But we all would have said the same about my mom and me at this stage. How do we not end up where my mom and I are now, in another 40 years? 


My parents both broke so many generational traumas, for the better. But they injected their own that we’ve now had to grapple with and (hopefully) break. What new generational traumas will I put on my kids? How can I be so arrogant to think I’ll be different or better? I’m just as flawed and angry and slighted and broken in just as f*cked up a world as they are. 


This was ultimately so destabilizing I decided I needed some hypnotherapy. And, honestly, in one session I got an answer I haven’t gotten from any of the weeks of agonizing about this, or talking to friends about it. 


My parents have a very clear flaw that has continually tripped them up (as we all do.) Theirs is pride, and not the happy, pro-gay kinda pride. It's the pride of “I know with absolute certainty what is right and wrong, there’s no room for doubt or debate, and because of that it’s my job here on Earth to judge everyone.” In all of their relationships, they are the sage, doling out advice to others. The worshipped. This is why they were academics. They are always in the position of mentor, never mentee. 


This was our breaking point. Their utter assurance that Eli isn’t really a girl and their unwillingness to use her pronouns. Their obnoxious certainty was more important to them than saying “she/her” a few weeks a year and keeping us in their lives, at the end of their lives.  


This is also where all of our family trauma comes from, and what caused a rift between the two of them for more than ten years when I was growing up. It’s all about pride.  


My dad recently refused to even look at assisted living places, and finally the decision was made for him when he broke his neck insisting on carrying in a vacuum for his house cleaner who was half his age and clearly capable of doing it, but a woman. 


Literally: Pride before the fall. And pride after the fall. Pride all around the fall. 


As I have spent weeks now by my mother’s bedside listening to her replay every grievance in her life, I realized it’s all about pride. What she should have gotten. The people who should have listened to her. Her absolute statements on who is or isn’t going to heaven. 


Their pride is a monster that’s been fed so well by those around them, that it’s subsumed them. 


It occurred to me in this hypnotherapy session that there’s a clear opposite to pride: Humility. 


This is actually something I’m pretty familiar with. I am someone who gets bored easily when I’m pretty competent at something, constantly trying to level up and take on something harder that makes me feel scared and uncertain. The job of a journalist is continually humbling. You are taking on areas way outside your expertise regularly and trying to get up to speed on them as quickly as possible. And then your work goes to an editor no matter how good you are. That editor will shred it nine times out of ten. And then readers will abuse you over it. 


Being both a journalist and a startup founder is quite literally the opposite of being worshipped. It’s endlessly humbling. People have left our company because they weren’t ok with failure. Startups are about failure, I tell them. I fail every day. I can’t get everything right and no one expects me to. I need to get the right things right. 


I also thought about how I relate to my kids. Their obsessions become my obsessions. I play video games with them at night, even though I’m the one in the family who always loses. Both run faster and swim better than I do already. Eli wears my clothes far better than I do. I love these things about them. I love that they are better versions of me. 


And then there are the causes important to me. The things that consume my thoughts and being. The things that drive me. Obviously, antiracism and gender equality are huge, but they weren’t always. I had to learn. I had to be called in. I had to see where I was complicit in the problem first and change. And now, the number one cause for our family is transgender rights. This is not my lived experience or something that was even on my top ten list more than a decade ago. But it’s the lived experience of my baby who I love more than anything on earth. So I’ve learned quickly. That should be how all moms are. Loving your child shouldn’t be something you get a medal for. 


But my mom wasn’t. My mom had a gay child and refused to believe it was a thing instead of learning about it, fighting for it, and loving them for that not in spite of it. 


That’s not tied to wokeness or politics, I realized. It’s about pride vs. humility. I know plenty of God-fearing conservatives who adore and fight for their queer kids. 


It comes down to these two questions,


Do you have all the answers? Y/N

Do you love your kids more than your answers? Y/N 


My mom and I would answer those two questions differently from one another, but the same for ourselves, at any point in time.


And that is the difference. I may still have generational traumas I put on my kids because I’m a broken person in a broken world. But it won’t be a new version of that same trauma. I’ve already proven over 20 years of my adult life, I do not have that same precise pattern. 


So we’ll see. We’ll see what that dynamic is like in my 80s. And we’ll see if my sense of taste comes back as this epiphany eases my panic about something so important to me. 


But humility is now my North Star in parenting. What do I think I know that I could be wrong about? What do I not know that I could learn more about? What do my kids have to teach me about my blind spots?