Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tasting privileges

Two years ago, I had my very first night away from Maddy and Teddy. The trip is for an interview in the Bay Area with a small biotech company, which meant I had to fly solo with two 4-year-olds across the country before continuing on to my final destination. Flying first to Seattle, I spent the day helping Maddy and Teddy settle in with my aunt and uncle before packing a small carry on and disappearing at nap time. Upon arriving in the Bay Area, I would navigate the airport and then the city with my small bag before checking into my hotel and nose-diving into a King size bed. The whole time, I marveled at how amazingly wonderful it was to not only be on my own but doing so with the peace-of-mind that both kids were in excellent hands being safe, sound and well cared for. A luxury Grey and I don't normally have.

Since Maddy and Teddy arrived, I haven't spent more than 48 hours away from them. Part of this has been due to my different positions for work not requiring extensive travel, but another end is that up until very recently traveling without the kids hasn't been something we could do. Unlike others, we didn't have access to family who was close-by or anyone we trusted to leave Maddy and Teddy with. All of this has lead to an interesting "otherness" when around those who talk having family close-by or can afford live-in child care.

All of this has been on my brain this week as I both prepare to leave for a week-long meeting in Southern California and have been in negotiations with Moon about her and Lucas taking Maddy and Teddy for a few days. It wasn't that long ago that neither of these things were options, which leaves me in strange territory of juggling my anxiety over leaving my kids while also being acutely aware of what a privilege it is that this is suddenly an option.

Privilege is an odd thing, given that many are unaware of until their situation changes. Coming from the camp of the have-nots, it's always been interesting to transition into the world of having something and learning how to navigate it. Grey and I still get odd looks when I talk about our weekly "dates" to the grocery store or doing some errand sans Maddy and Teddy, yet these are times I still look forward to both to spend time with my partner but also to do so without having to wrangle two energetic children.

But what is also fascinating is hearing the arguments for those who try to justify their privileges. While in Boston, arguments for deserving were common, particularly when faced by others who had lost these same privileges. My former landlord was a great resource for this as she would bemoan the toils of having inherited 3 properties, all of which were requiring maintenance due to decades of neglect. But there were other examples too, all of which were cringe-inducing to the average observer, with arguments ranging from superior intelligence to superior lineage.

One hard reality I've faced starting in 2010 was that life is far from fair. There are those who can never seem to get out of their situation, forever doomed by misfortune, and there are others who have an infinite amount of safety nets. Living the reality that class and social ranking is very much alive today can be depressing, especially when it doesn't take much to level the playing field.

But equally interesting is a new realization I've been experiencing, which is that privilege can also be a toxic thing if in excessive amounts. In order to develop resilience, one must encounter hardship or challenge. Privilege in excess can stifle growth, leaving someone in a mentally and emotionally immature state.

And where it's particularly a shock is when that access changes. When someone who assumed something that was limited as normal and suddenly has to face the reality of the safety nets are retracted. I cannot begin to tell you the stories I have from students who weren't prepared, the mistakes they made that were ultimately more costly to them because of their lack of resilience and how painful it was to watch as they grappled with these challenges without the required toolkit.

As I prepare for my first solo work trip, there are so many things I'm grateful for. I'm grateful for having the babysitter we have, who can help Grey with kid and cat care. I'm grateful that family is in driving distance. I'm grateful that we finally have the structure in place to do this. And I'm realizing that I need to start trusting the structure; learning to ask for help instead of assuming it doesn't exist.

But I'm also sad that what I get isn't something that's more universal. Everyone has their share of hardships and burdens and I'm not naive at assuming the grass is greener on the other side, but it's the knowledge the positive impact so many would have simple from more equal access to many things in our world that are limited (childcare, healthcare, educational opportunities for advancement to name a few) is something that's hard to live with. That the privilege I've been tasting, though sweet, isn't something that should be restricted.


  1. I'm glad you have some great help, friend. It takes the mental load off of you so much. Flying with kids is no joke. Wishing you lots of luck that everything goes smoothly.

  2. I can't believe that trip was 2 years. I remember you getting ready for it.

    You're right. There is something to be said for facing adversity and coming through the fire more refined and honed.

    I'm holding space that things with Moon and Lucas continue to go well. And that your current trip is an easy and successful one.

  3. It's wonderful that you're able to have some help at this point. Hope the trip goes well!

    It's a tricky balance, isn't it? Adversity and privilege are the kinds of experiences that having too much or not enough both ruin things. Definitely it's a new sort of challenge having to learn to ask for help and trust that it will be there.

  4. I am not a huge fan of the whole "privilege" discussion, because no matter how well intentioned I feel like it easily segues into a blame discussion. But...certainly we benefit and suffer based on things outside our immediate personal control. It's something worth thinking about.

    When I think about my "privileges," in the sense of things that have a positive impact that I personally had nothing to do with, a stable family is top of the list. In my case it was a stable nuclear family at least; the extended family was more troubled for a variety of reasons. But still that made an incalculable difference to me. I don't know that I'm fantastic but without my inner sense of security, value and resilience I could have been much worse.

    Anything you are doing to make your children's lives stable, and give them a safe home life, is a win, win, win. Even if it's not perfect. It's never perfect.


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