My mother became a police officer in 1988, when she was 21 years old. She was the only female cop in the family, the only one of my grandfather’s six children to follow in his footsteps. To this day, I think she’s his favorite because of the police officer’s connection they share, and it shows.
At this same time, my grandmother was going back to college, to get certified to become a teacher’s assistant. She had a particular interest in art, which she actively pursued all throughout my childhood, painting for as long as her hands could tolerate it. She sparked my creative interest with crafts, drawing, gluing and painting, and staying true to her ‘hoarder’ nature (which remained a running joke in our family, even as we were cleaning out her things to be moved to her new apartment just before she passed away), she saved absolutely all of it.
When I was young, my mom and grandpa talked about ‘the job’, every time she would pick my brother and me up from my grandparents’ house…they had to watch us after school because not only was mom a female cop working in New York City, but a single mother—who had just been left for another woman by my chronically abusive father, also a cop.
“Mommy, can we go home now, pleaaaaaaase?” my brother and I would protest, as we were hungry, tired, bored and impatient.
People were, and still are, impressed by ‘my mom the cop’, and a lot of it has to do with her being a woman. I guess it’s not as huge of a deal to me, because I grew up in a law-enforcement family. Even now, she’s remarried to someone she had known ‘on the job’. He is my wonderful, amazing, caring, funny stepdad, who I call “daddy”. My mom has always impressed and captivated me with her drive and determination no matter what she does, not with her womanhood. Being a female is just an added bonus.
As a police officer, my mom worked in a bunch of settings. She’s been through it all—from dangerous undercover work to surviving 9/11. She would tell me stories as I grew up, about the things she did and the job environment itself. Stories of working with the city’s sex workers and junkies, trying to persuade them to get their lives together and keep them off the street. Many of these women were just barely the age that I am now, nineteen, and had venereal diseases, tremendous holes in their nose from snorting coke, or were just, simply, “a hot mess”. She told me of having to go undercover and play the role of a sex worker herself, while wearing a wire right ‘smack’ in the middle of a drug bust.
While all these stories make me believe that my mother is nothing short of a civic superhero, the one thing I hold the closest is the fact that she lived through and witnessed the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
“I’ve thought about it so many times,” my mom would say every time we launched into a conversation about September 11th. It was right around the same time as her divorce from my father, who had already been with another woman for two years then.
“…not about what happened that day. That day—there are some things I’ve seen that I still can’t and don’t want to talk about. People jumping out of windows to their death…it was horrible. But all I think about now that I’m here is, what if I didn’t come home? Your father would have had you up until now.”
She was right. Had my mother been one of the police officers who died that day, I would have been stuck with my father and his physical, mental and verbal abuse until I hit eighteen. My brother would still be in his clutches. Every September, and every day, I thank all the powers that be that my mom is still here, and I’m even more thankful that she’s my best friend in this world.
In conversation, I found out so many things from my mom about her mother, too. Not only had she gone back to college at almost 60, she had raised a child [my uncle, who my grandfather later adopted] by a man who left her with next-to-nothing. She met my grandpa and was married to him until the day she passed away, two years ago this month.
My matriarchal lineage has made me think a lot about what I’ve been through, what my family has been through, and how it’s all determined and shaped the woman that I am. My mom and my grandmother never spoke of feminism, nor did they ever declare themselves feminists. They just did everything they could to remain strong, for themselves and their children. I have often questioned why my mom didn’t stand up for herself more openly sometimes or ever call herself a feminist, because much of her life has depended on her being independent and having to plow through hardships basically alone. She said, “I keep quiet about those things. To me, there’s no sense in being outward about it. You are though, and that’s wonderful. But stuff like that is personal. You have to take shit from some people in life to get where you want to be, sometimes. And at the same time, stop at nothing to do things for yourself, no matter how small.”
From my mom and my grandmother, I’ve learned that ‘feminist’ is not a declaration or a proclamation, a title, or a label, but it’s not a dirty word, either. It’s a course of actions you take to liberate yourself. Feminism is within. Empowerment lies within.
Which leads me to the question…did I discover feminism, or has it always been ‘in my blood’?