There is, in fact, "try"
Putting on a little performance of what a good mom looks like
“You tried,” the other mom told me at the baseball game last weekend. “I saw.”
It truly meant a lot to me.
We went to the White Sox game last weekend with another couple who have two boys about the same age as ours. We parents knew each other pre-kids and together have bonded over how greatly we have been humbled by the process of raising boys who can be loud and thoughtless and messy and destructive and goofy in public.
The kids were pretty well behaved at the game but around the 6th inning they got restless so my mom friend and I took them to the kids’ area where they ran around in a typical careless manner that is both very normal and also potentially annoying to other people. I was doing that public parenting thing where I said something like “Guys, slow down” or “Guys, the line starts over there” or “Guys, use hand sanitizer,” and they ran off because god forbid I look like I have any control over my kids, let alone anyone else’s.
“Thank you,” I said with utter sincerity to the mom who clocked me trying. “I did try.”
Trying is an aspect of public parenting. For me, that involves a lot of telegraphing that I’m working really hard to raise polite and conscientious young men who will be a benign-to-positive presence in the world. This little show started early when we were instructing near-infants at the playground to “share” and “take turns” even though they couldn’t even poop in a toilet or watch a whole TV show.
Trying is often performative, to show that despite what your child is currently doing, there is a certain standard of behavior you wish for that you hope reflects your values. We went on a family vacation recently and I nagged my kids at every restaurant interaction (which was 100% of the meals) to say please and thank you and to make eye contact to the point where maybe the waitstaff was a little bit like “Yeah, yeah, I get it, you’re trying, but I have other tables to get to. ” If I didn’t want to perform this I probably could have done my nagging ahead of time, but this way if the kids were rude I could widen my eyes and shake my head at the server to be like “These kids. I tried at least. Also, I was a server once in 2001 for six months, so I get it.” The server would undoubtedly think “What a wonderful mother/human; she must be one of the good ones,” and have a marvelous rest of the shift.
It sucks. It’s one of the grinding everyday parts of being a parent. Nagging is already a great drain on its own in private but doing it in public — I hate what I sound like and how futile it is and how aging the act of scolding is. It’s a little bit pitiful, trying to prove to a probably-imagined audience that you’re not someone who doesn’t care about how your kids behave, nor are you an out-of-control person who loses their shit on their kids in public. (There is a lot of photographic evidence of Kate Middleton demonstrating trying in heels.)
Trying does not mean succeeding. At the end of our family trip we stayed at a hotel with an indoor pool but the pool was fairly small and enclosed in a glass, metal and concrete deck that really amplified the sound of two brothers screaming and jumping on each other (understandably!) after an eight our drive. A mother and her daughter sat quietly on the pool stairs, not going any deeper than their waists, their hair pointedly dry. My boys did cannonballs feet from them. “Guys! Guys! If you’re going to splash, splash over there!” “Guys! Don’t shout!” “Guys! Jump over there!” Guys! There are other people here!” I glanced over—did they see me trying? Because I was sick of saying “Guys!” over and over.
The humiliating part about trying is that your kids know that in public, you likely won’t respond with some sort of meltdown or a doomsday option like leaving the pool early or declaring no screens at 10 AM. They know you have to choose your battles and that sometimes means looking like an idiot going “Guys. Guys. Guys. Guys. Guys,” over again over again so you don’t look like you gave up.
At my weaker moments I wonder if the parents of only girls experience the same overall pain of trying to show the world you’re doing your best with these feral creatures. While on vacation my husband told me he heard a little girl say at the morning coffee service “May I have a green tea, please?” to the server while our kids were probably running through the lobby or had their feet on a couch. We couldn’t stop laughing about this. May? Please? Green tea???? That clearly is what having daughters must be like, all day every day.
Trying is the line between having a green tea please child and just letting your kids do whatever the hell they want because you either don’t care or spent so much time trying you ran out of energy—which happens to all of us. This is a text from a friend of mine who was observing our kids at a public concert in the alley by the train tracks:
I would say “normalize acknowledging someone’s effort” but that’s dangerous. Sometimes the very last thing in the world you want is for someone to acknowledge your parenting in any way, even if they mean well. If I wasn’t in the right mood or the kids had been really off the wall, my “thank you” to the “you tried” lady at the baseball game could have been something like “Sorry,
bitch” (where the crossed out word is implied.) Unless you feel very safe probably the best way to acknowledge someone’s try is with a very quick sympathetic expression such as this
Or just own that you’re trying on your own terms. Last Christmas I was part of a secret Santa circle. I asked for a shirt like this and my wonderful secret witch got it for me:
I wanted it because I needed something to put on to remind myself of my efforts after getting a carefully worded call or email from school about kid behavior. At that time I was having a hard time separating what my kid/the school needed to function from concern that it seemed like we were raising him to believe it was fine to sass the teacher or walk out of the classroom (it’s funny the things you still think you have a lot of control over, despite years of parenting proving the contrary.) I just needed a little comforting physical reminder to myself, at least, that I did, indeed, try because there were certain days I wanted to say “Sorry world—I truly did my best but I guess it wasn’t enough. Take this child and do with him what you will.”
Funnily enough, once I received the shirt I ended up putting it on less than I expected. Unless I’m just saving it so it lasts a long time.
The Evil Witches Giving Circle
I launched an Evil Witches Giving Circle with the States Project to support Democratic candidates in the Michigan legislature (I am based in Illinois but Michigan is my favorite local swing state.) I recently interviewed Melissa Walker, an old editor/writer friend of mine in North Carolina who is the States Project’s director of Giving Circles, about why an exhausted and depressed but influential segment of the country needs to scrape our energy together now if you care about things like reproductive rights, gun sense and cleaner air/water. I set a goal for $5,000 by October 3 and amazingly several of you have already gotten us 15% of the way there in the last week alone.
I hope you consider chipping in a little bit. If everyone who got this newsletter gave one dollar we’d be well past our goal and I won’t plug it here again.
Why does Michigan need our help?
Melissa Walker: All the states need you: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona are the ones I’m most concerned about because there are threats to steal the electoral college in those states. We’re in both chambers for the first time. We helped win a special election this spring which was exciting because it means we’re one seat closer to tying or getting the majority in the state house. We’re three seats away from a tie and four from a flip in the state senate.
State Senator Mallory McMorrow went viral with an incredible speech on the floor in Lansing after being accused of grooming children by her opponent. She’s now been on every morning show and gotten more press than any other recent state senator. That clip is a very inspiring thing to share. People ask, “Why aren’t you supporting her?” She’s in a safer district. The best way we can help her is to get her into the majority with these other people who need to win. We are supporting these names and faces that you’re not going to see in the spotlight. They need you even if you don’t know them.
After the 2020 redistricting, the maps in Michigan, while not perfect, are more fair than they’ve been in the past. That gives us hope for a path, even in a midterm year with a Democrat in the White House is traditionally a bloodbath.
How much do you think the repeal of Roe will help motivate Democratic voters these midterms?
I’m hopeful about it because of Roe, because of guns, the stealing democracy stuff. But so much depends on what’s happening in October. It’s so hard to predict what the national mood is going to be.
How is Giving Circle money used?
We endorse candidates and give direct contributions to the candidates and to our in state partner, the State Caucus. It’s the entity in the state that’s exclusively focused on state legislators. They are basically working to fill gaps, making sure everyone has a campaign manager and a volunteer team and a coordinator, thinking about who needs more polling or an extra staffer. When we work with the caucus we’re trying to help them strategically. We have a partnership with a group called Analyst Institute which comes in and reviews budgets for the caucus and the candidates. That helps create right-sized budgets based on research-based best practices — how many mail pieces you need, what you pay a campaign manager. This is often some candidates’ first campaign.
What’s an example of how this strategy has worked?
In Maine, 2018, we helped flip the state senate. The next session, we watched as they raised teacher pay, banned conversation therapy, lowered the cost of prescription drugs. It was incredible. Policy change happens so quickly when majorities change.
Why are even very small donations helpful?
It’s not about the individual donation, it’s about the organizing of the people. There are plenty of Giving Circle leaders giving at a very modest level themselves but they’re getting 50 people to participate and that is huge.
There is so much emotional giving that happens in politics. It happens only with the politicians you see. We love Stacey Abrams but she has the money to do what she needs to do. Susan Collins’ opponent Sara Gideon finished her losing race with $15 million in the bank which was more than our entire budget for 12 states.
We have mapped out a path for wins in these states. You don’t have to worry about which candidate, which district. I think people want to be more strategic in their giving; they just don’t have time to figure it out.
If people chip in the Giving Circle, are they going to get bombarded with dramatic begging fundraising texts and emails?
We’re judicious about that. We communicate with Giving Circle leaders and we leave it to them to communicate with members. Donor emails don’t go to candidates although they go to our general list but people can opt out. We send out an update email around every two weeks. But there are not those kind with highlights and three exclamation points. People can easily opt out.
What else do people need to know about this election?
I’ve had a personal evolution since I started doing this work. When I started, we won a lot. It was 2017, 2018, 2019, then in 2020 we hit a brick wall. The day after the 2020 election, we were on our staff call and I kept having to turn off my video because I kept crying. Our political director called me and said, “I noticed you were upset.” I was like “We worked so hard and we didn’t achieve our goals. I'm so upset.” He said “Are you going to quit now?” I said “Well, no.” He said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you're kind of new. You may not know yet that you fight and you lose and you fight and you lose and you fight and you lose and then you fight and you win. What are you in it for?” and I sniffled “The fight.”
We can’t be in it for the win, we have to be in it for the fight. I’m much less attached to the win and more attached to the fight.
Again, you can donate here. If you are interested in being a co-leader of the Circle and spreading the word to your network with simple customizable boilerplate but conversational language, please let me know. It’s much easier than it seems and is a great way to feel not-helpless.
Thanks for reading Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. Feel free to forward this to someone who might care for it.
If you haven’t yet, I hope you consider becoming a paid subscriber which gets you bonus content and subscriber-only threads but moreover supports independent, unsponsored reporting, essays and humor:
(But if you’re deciding whether to spend $ on a subscription or the Giving Circle, do the Giving Circle!)
The newsletter archives live here. Here are three older pieces about traveling when you have kids which is what I’ll be doing next week. Evil Witches will return in early August.
If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for the newsletter you can reply to this email or talk to other witches on Twitter. I love a good shout out:
I hope it’s evident that I don’t really think girls (and kids who are neither/nor) are no trouble in public. When you are at the end of your rope you think the dumbest stuff like how alllll the childfree people in the world must be out drinking champagne from a fountain and dancing the night away right now.
I think a lot about a time when my oldest was 2 and we were at a museum together. He was grabbing trains from another kid at the train table and I was clucking at him to “share nicely”. The other mom, who had other three older kids running around and clearly was all out of fucks, looked and me and said “Don’t worry. My kids are assholes 95% of the time. It’s not a reflection on you.” I wanted to hug her.