I have always been a highly driven person. From starting my first business at ten years old to earning my Public Health degree from a Big Ten university, I've never shied away from a fulfilling challenge.
Which is why those closest to me were shocked when I decided to have children in my twenties, right in the middle of building my careeer.
Just the other day, a new acquaintance asked, "If you could do all that, why would you stop to have kids?”
I smiled, first of all grateful that a man his age had evolved past the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. But his question also gave me a reason to return to the moment I decided not only to have children, but to become a mother.
My husband Mike and I were planning our wedding. I was in college and he was working his way up the ladder at a big publishing company. For Mike there was never any doubt that we’d become parents. But I’d seen too much of the underbelly of this world, and I was afraid of the consequences of bringing more children into it.
Over the course of a month I took time out each day to live out a life in another world. It was a quiet world, a sane world. I was totally free. I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted. I had nothing to think of but my own needs and ambition.
But in my meditation I aged. And the world stayed quiet. As time marched on across my being I had nothing to think of but my own needs and ambition.
I wanted to get the garden cleaned up before the snows came.
I wanted to get my short stories published in the Reader’s Digest.
I wanted to help my church and our sister parish in Guatemala switch to solar.
I wanted to enjoy dinner and fine wine with dear friends in quiet conversation.
I wanted to reach enlightenment and slip seamlessly into nonphysicality.
It was meaningful, fulfilling. But for me – to my tremendous surprise – it was too quiet.
I received a great gift in those meditations, however. One evening, as I searched for the right road, I aged. And the calm and quiet existence I’d so diligently cobbled together for myself from various acknowledgements and achievements was tattered like cotton candy in the carnival breeze by impossibly giant, joyful shrieks of “Grandma!”
All of the calm and perspective I’d gathered was called upon in abundance as energetic little monsters with big eyes and chipmunk cheeks invaded every corner of my world. They created and destroyed – drawing hearts and their favorite cartoon characters on the kitchen table with my expensive red lipstick; taking up fallen wooden swords to knock the heads off of roses and hydrangeas in my garden.
My daughter slept heavily in my bed while my son soaked his feet and read my husband’s poetry in the yard. My children came for the quiet, and their children picked up the bill with laughter and tears and fighting and hugs.
When they left they looked recharged and sorry to go. I was exhausted. Mike and I were quiet. We took up our wine glasses and books and returned to our couch in the sunroom. We cuddled, clinging to the madness but grateful for the quiet.
I awoke from that meditation understanding what I was really choosing between. We were pregnant with our firstborn three months later.
Did I make the right choice? I don’t know. What if things don’t turn out that way? What if something doesn’t work out?
Anything could happen.
Yes, it could. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this: I have to contribute to creating a world wherein my vision could exist. I must ensure that families have access to the high quality healthcare they need to keep themselves and their children well. I must work to take away the burdens of basic survival, so that people are able to step away and enjoy the greater things in life. I must work to ensure that elders can retire in dignity with enough life left in them to create and enjoy what they create for themselves.
And so I am here, a mother and a candidate for the state legislature, trying to make the right choices.
If you read my post in the Custer County Chronicle last weekend, you know I take a somewhat solemn approach to Independence Day. In the midst of all the celebration, I make sure to take time out with my family for contemplation. In that time, we read the Declaration of Independence together, and talk about our responsibility to protect our democracy through action.
I received many comments after that post in the paper. Some people think it sounds boring, that my kids might want to do other things instead. But I think there is nothing more fulfilling than taking time in the words of our forefathers. And there's nothing more important than protecting our children from bogus claims about what the Declaration and the Constitution say than teaching them ourselves.
As a child I lived in destitution. My parents, bless them, were incapable. My surroundings were dangerous; violence and drugs were constant. Back then I was miserable. But I remember the presidient - President Clinton - swearing with the most sincere conviction that if we all just worked hard, got an education, and followed a dream we'd be able to overcome anything. I imagined he was speaking directly to me.
I believed him with all my heart.
I believed that the Constitution laid a path to victory for every able American citizen. And that those of us who succeeded would be rewarded for helping and caring for the others. And despite everything - despite my dad's illness, despite being responsible for caring for my younger siblings, despite having to drop out of high school to find work to support my family - I never stopped believing.
Back then, it was true. But as I look around I see that I was one of the few to make it through the economic gate before it fell, cutting off the impoverished from a path to the middle class. Now, you can only get through the gate going one way: down.
Independence Day is a time of rememberance for me. It's a time to reflect on the vision of our forefathers. Though they couldn't live up to the ideal of Liberty, Justice, and Freedom for all, they expected us to supercede them. Anyone who has ever read the Declaration of Independence knows that.
That's why I take the time to read the Declaration to my children. Where we are today is but a single step on the road toward the great ideal, the United States of America envisioned by our forefathers. And if we embrace those ideals, if we stand up to the challenges put forth by those who wish to destroy those ideas for their profit - the big bank owners, board members at massive international corporations, insurance company holders, big oil profiteers - we can't help but reach that ideal.
Our responsibility to charge forth toward the Great Amerian Ideal is inherent in our citizenship. Acceptance of that responsibility is patriotism. We must teach our children young.
Whitney Raver is running for South Dakota State Legislature out of District 30. On paper, District 30 is the "reddest" in the state. But Whitney knows that Progressive roots run deep in her community. She is committed to uniting her community around common causes such as protecting the water, workers, and future generations from encroaching antisocial corporate interest.