Thursday, June 23, 2016

An Open Letter to My Son At Age 14


Dear Justice,

It was in 2002 whens I wrote a letter to you as a sleep-deprived, scared, often overwhelmed but still head-over-heels-in-love-with-her-baby new mother. I wrote the original letter a few months after a pretty frightening birthing experience that left me feeling battle-scarred and adrift for weeks; I was finally beginning to get my courage back when I wrote that first letter to you.

You’re 14 now. We survived this long and I never did forget you in your car seat, roll over you in my sleep, drop you while you were slippery from the bath or the millions of other things I was afraid of doing. All the clichés are true: it feels like it was yesterday and it feels like a lifetime ago when we were walking through the grocery store and that tiny moment between the newborn you and your father struck me and it sank in that I was truly a mother. Since then, there have been many more nights without sleep, binkies adored and finally – finally – discarded, the rolling-sitting-standing-walking-running progression, potty failures and triumphs, subjects that have transfixed you [volcanoes, Pompeii, deep sea animals, dinosaurs, pre-dinosaurs, increasingly obscure pre-dinosaurs, Legos, Star Wars, architecture…] and a natural talent for drawing and writing that has left me speechless. Along the way, you have lost all your baby teeth and grandparents, one who died when you a baby and one who lived with us, gained some close friends and lost some, too. Fourteen years after your birth, when you arrived naked at your first protest as a red-faced, fist-clenched objector to the Birthing Industrial Complex, I have not gotten out of the habit of looking in on you as you sleep at night. Sometimes you still remind me of that toddler who slept beside me, with the same dark, thick eyelashes, the same soft cheeks, the same sighs in your sleep. You are clearly not a little boy anymore, though. You have an unmistakable boy B.O. on occasion now, dark fuzz on your upper-lip region, and a little hint, now and then, of the teenaged you that is emerging, including an impressive eye roll and a should-have-seen-this-coming aptitude for snark that proves that the acorn did not fall far from his mother tree.

B.O. and hereditary tendencies towards snark aside, though, you are still my sweet boy.

At the time that I write this, you haven’t gone through The Change yet: no giant growth spurts, no croaking voice, no discernible Adam’s apple. In some ways, I look forward to seeing how this will manifest on you but in many ways, I do not. I am treasuring this gift of your extended “boyness” and not just because I want to relish this part of your youth as long as I can. I’m selfish but I’m not that selfish. I mainly dread the flood of hormones because I fear the other side of puberty. I’m scared for you, venturing more out into a world that I can shield you from less and less. Most of all, though, I am deeply aware of the responsibility for having brought another male into the world. I am not man-bashing. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that I am. I just cannot pretend not to see the damage that so many boys and men have unleashed upon the world. This is where having a feminist mother doesn’t have many perks, I’m afraid.

When you were born, in that instant of hearing the clichéd but heart-stopping, “It’s a boy!” I immediately embraced the idea of being the parent to a son.  You were perfect and you were exactly what I wanted and it was perfect that you were a boy. I had a son. A son. My son. Now, though, with your teen years and beyond moving so swiftly upon you, encroaching upon us, I admit that the inescapability of your maleness weighs on me more than ever. As I write this, you are still a kid who carefully moves worms off sidewalks, cries when he sees other people crying (another inherited trait), runs to get help when there’s a stray dog and is not too proud to listen to the sisters of your friends as they gush about My Little Pony. You’ve even watched an episode or two so you could know what they were talking about even though you’re really not into My Little Pony. That is how essentially good and sweet you are, Justice. How long can it last, though?

I’ll admit that the last couple of weeks have been particularly jarring ones with regard to my already negative feelings about the bloodstained fingerprints some males have left on the world, of the rippling grief and trauma they have caused. At the risk of making you feel ashamed, which is never my intention, I will say that males are the cause of most of the violent crime today: rapes, batteries, murders. This is not your fault. I am not blaming you for anything you didn’t do, nor am I blaming anyone else for anything they didn’t do. I am not going to ignore the elephant in the room, though. Our world has a problem with males. Some call this “toxic masculinity” and I have no issues with this term as long as we acknowledge that it is pervasive and widespread. Our world has had a male problem around the globe for pretty much as long as we’ve been able to record it and before that as well. How can we ignore that this is true?

At this point, some people reading this will get angry or defensive. They will say “not all men” or “women are violent, too” or something along those lines. To this I say, yeah, I get it, but that does not detract from the fact that violent crime is, by and large, committed by males. The systems that dominate, oppress and violate others are, by and large, male constructs as they have been the ones in power, creating the systems, and they replicate patriarchal ideologies and behaviors. My simple point is not that males are all and exclusively responsible for violence against others – of course not – but simply that it is pervasive and nearly always perpetrated by males. Is this such a controversial thing to acknowledge?

I grew up in a home that was very unlike the home I am raising you in. In my childhood home, we were not allowed to say what was perfectly honest and obvious if it upset the powers that be. I was raised to be silent about the elephant in the room, to suppress my voice until I felt like I could drown in a flurry of the unspoken words that I’d crammed down my throat to keep the peace. Ever since leaving that home, much of my life has been dedicated to naming things. I believe that before we can change things, we first need to name them. Before we can name them, we have to see them, admit to them, without defensiveness, lashing out, feeling shame that wasn't intended and without gas-lighting: we need to see these injustices with honesty and without caring more about our egos than the greater good. That is what I am doing in the hopes that you will be mindful about avoiding a legacy that you can absolutely choose to not inherit, Justice; with your teen years upon you, it is more and more necessary for you to be mindful of the kind of male – the kind of human being, really – you want to be and the kind of new legacy you want to create with how you live your life.

God, what a depressing letter this is. I’m so sorry. As when I wrote the first letter to you, I kind of want to apologize for the world but I don’t even know where to start.

The fact is, though, that you are still that perfect baby I met 14 years ago. I mean, flawed but still perfect. You are weird and artistic and sensitive and smart and strong and full of kindness. You are still that boy who is full of potential, for ill or for good. My hope for you is that when the teen hormones hit, you will still love to make people smile, still rescue the worms drying out on the sidewalk and the dogs running loose in the street, you will still see every being as your equal: equal in their capacity for feeling, and wanting to avoid, pain and equal in their capacity for feeling, and wanting to pursue, joy. If you understand that we are equals in this way, then you will want the best for everyone. You will create a new legacy, the one that I hoped for you when you were a blank-slate baby and the one that have every reason to I hope for you today.

You are going to change the world. The hormones haven’t hit yet but I know that you are more than them.

I love you,



  1. Justice will be as kind, considerate and compassionate as he always has been. Because he's had you to show him the way, and he's not going to stray off it. Lovely post, true, honest and loving x

  2. You should not be allowed to raise a male child and make him think his gender is inferior or a problem. I hope you reconsider your sexist attitudes, or if not, the State intervenes to protect your child from this emotional abuse.

  3. Oh "anonymous" I'm sure you're exactly to whom she was referring. People w/open hearts & minds get the intention of the letter. No apologies - No regrets.

  4. I love moms who write letters to their children. I love people who write letters in general. There's something so pure and captivating about it. I agree with Animalista Untamed on this, hormones won't change what he loves and who he is. His interests will change over time as anyone's would, but his values not as much. With the commitment and adoration he feels from his mother, I can't imagine he'd ever want to let her down.

  5. Such a beautiful and heartfelt letter. I cannot imagine your boy being anything other than loving and compassionate, as you are, and as you raised him to be.

  6. I teared up through this! Justice is a very compassionate human being and I believe that he will be a great asset to this world.

  7. I teared up through this! Justice is a very compassionate human being and I believe that he will be a great asset to this world.

  8. a beautifully honest and open letter Marla... i think you have articulated the fears and hopes of many mothers of sons - boys soon to be men - as they move forward to their adult selves... you have indeed given him the best start to being part of the change we know is possible to create a far more just and compassionate world, the rest is up to him...


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